With law for healthcare workers, reforms continue unabated

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With law for healthcare workers, reforms continue unabated

Saturday, 10 April 2021 | Devender Singh Aswal

With law for healthcare workers, reforms continue unabated

The Act makes a significant shift from the doctor-led model to a more care-accessible and team-based model. It will transform the healthcare scenario

The National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions Bill, 2020 (NCAHP Act) has been passed by  Parliament after a long and anxious wait, particularly by the health professionals. The Act provides for regulation and maintenance of standards of education and services by allied and healthcare professionals, assessment of institutions, maintenance of a Central Register and State Register and creation of a system to improve access, research and development.

Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan explained the reasons and objects of the Bill: “I would say that most of you must have paid a visit to a hospital at some point of time in your life and I wish not, but you might have had to. Please recall those days and remember the people who took care of you and who brought you out of your illness. You may remember the name of the doctor. You may remember the name of the hospital. But do you also remember the name of the persons who took your blood samples, gave you physiotherapy, took your X-ray, advised you on what you should eat, checked your eyesight, assisted your doctor or surgeon, looked into microscopes and bid you a farewell with a smile. Who are these people?”

They are varied health professionals — the lab technicians, physiotherapists, radiographers, dieticians, record keepers, optometrists, X-ray technicians, and many more, who are a critical part of the healthcare system and the foundation of the pyramid of the entire healthcare system.

According to studies, the role of doctors, undoubtedly critical, varies between 25 to 50 per cent in the entire healthcare chain. A wag said “doctor is next to God, nurse is next to the doctor and  the pharmacist is closest to the patient”, but there are many others who are as vital and integral to this chain. In fact, these professionals are the bedrock of the complex healthcare system. 

After enacting the National Medical Commission Bill, 2019 — which was fiercely contested by a large body of medical practitioners, another transformative piece of legislation, the NCAHP Act, has been enacted which covers a wide range of healthcare professions which were unrecognised or unregulated to date.  The Act is a paradigm shift in healthcare delivery as it recognises the specialised skills and contributions of more than 56 types of the allied and healthcare professionals. The nation, nay the world, has witnessed the invaluable contribution of these professionals during COVID-19 as the frontline health workers who risked their lives every day fighting the pandemic.

The Act would regulate and leverage the qualified allied and healthcare workforce and ensure high-quality multidisciplinary care in line with the vision of  the universal health coverage moving towards a more care -accessible and team-based model.  The Act would reform and regulate this entire sector in order to give these professionals their due, increase their employment opportunities and, more importantly, enhance their dignity by recognising their true worth, within the country and globally.  The Act envisages the establishment of a Central statutory body as the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions.

The commission will frame policies and standards, regulate professional conduct and prescribe qualifications for all these professions. 

 A National Allied and Healthcare Advisory Council to advise the national commission with representation from all the States is provided under the Act to enable adequate representation from all the States and Union Territories. Further, each State will have a separate State Council with four autonomous Boards pertaining to undergraduate education, post-graduate education, assessment, rating, ethics and registration. While doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists in India are regulated through their respective regulatory bodies, the allied and healthcare professions are still unstructured, and unregulated.

Globally, most of the countries have a regulatory framework for standardised education and training. But in India, there was an absence of a regulatory framework and lack of standardised education curriculum as well as training for these allied and healthcare professionals, a void now removed.

Also, the Act makes a significant shift from the doctor-led model to a more care-accessible and team- based model. The NCAHP Act, 2020, is a landmark legislation which will go down in the history of healthcare revolution in India. It will transform the healthcare scenario and make a paradigm shift in the ministration of the entire healthcare system and make it efficacious.  Apparently, India is on the course of wholesale health sector reforms. 

The writer is a former Additional Secretary, Lok Sabha. The views expressed are personal.

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