By TP Saran
What is important is that the MC be an autonomous and independent institution that will ensure that that the highest standards are set and seen to be adhered to by all, for the benefit of the professionals that man the system as well as those at the receiving end – the patients
Following the elections held last December, the Medical Council of Mauritius (MC) has finally reconstituted itself, comprising newly elected members coming from both the private and public sectors, and other stakeholders including nominees appointed by the Minister of Health and Quality of Life. The new President of the MC is Dr BT Servansingh, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Victoria Hospital.
It is to be noted that a Medical Council Bill was first presented to Parliament in August 1967, and it is only in 1989 that an amended Bill was enacted. It would be interesting to know why it took so long to pass a Medical Council Act (MCA), but it would seem that one the major points of contention was that in the original draft proposed the Chairman of the Medical Council was to be the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health (MOH). The MCA, however, provides that the President must be an elected medical practitioner, which, along with other provisions, ensures that the MC has autonomy in its functioning.
We have learnt that certainly this was the case for a good number of years since the inception of the MC; however, subsequently down the years the MOH and its political heads repeatedly tried to exercise undue influence. This caused difficulties and problems in the running of the MC, especially threatening its autonomy. There have also been some internal squabbles amongst the medical members, some of whom sought elections for personal reasons and others who behaved more as union representatives rather than upholders of professional standards, one of the key roles of the MC.
On the other hand, the profiles and contributions of some of the lay members have in the past left a lot to be desired. On the basis of what criteria they are chosen, or what extraneous factors influence such choices are not known. This process is opaque, and it may therefore not surprise that their performance has been uneven. The ironic thing is that the more dedicated and competent members of the MC have had no option but to put up with such heavyweights.
We also learn that in the past few years there has been a lot of pressure on the MC to register medical practitioners whose qualifications were questionable, and it was not unusual for the Registrar and the President of the MC to receive abusive phone calls, accompanied by threats. The Occupation Permit that was imposed on the MC has been the source of much irritation in the profession at large, what with practitioners claiming to be specialists in specific areas being allowed in the country, and are then found to be doing routine practice outside of these areas.
Another matter where the MC has often been criticized is the investigation of cases of complaints and taking disciplinary action, especially against medical practitioners employed in the public sector. Apparently no less than a change in the Constitution can resolve this issue, for currently public officers can only be sanctioned by the Public Service Commission. An amendment made to the Medical Council Act has only resulted in emasculation of the Medical Tribunal, and this resulted in the resignation of the former Chairman, Judge Ahmed, and one of the members. Why the decision makers are failing to address this serious issue which gives a persistently negative image of the functioning of the MC is a matter of great concern to both the profession and the public.
It can therefore be seen that the new MC, and in particular the President, has therefore many challenges awaiting it, and many issues of major importance to be resolved. There are also the amendments announced in the Economic and Finance Bill relating to desirable qualifications of prospective medical students, the evaluation of specialist qualifications, the professional development of medical practitioners amongst others which will need to be addressed.
At the end of the day what is important is that the MC be an autonomous and independent institution that will ensure that that the highest standards are set and seen to be adhered to by all, for the benefit of the professionals that man the system as well as those at the receiving end – the patients.
* Published in print edition on 8 February 2013