Wanted life support
India needs to train thousands of paramedics to address an acute shortage, but courses offered by private institutes are unregulated and sometimes fraudulent. Jeevan Prakash Sharma investigatesUpdated: Sep 06, 2014 15:19 IST
When a patient was recently brought into the emergency section of a hospital in Punjab complaining of a stomach ache, paramedics on duty administered the wrong injection to him without a correct diagnosis – leaving him partially paralysed.
What is alarming is that a number of such cases are occurring in small dispensaries and private hospitals around the country. The reason? Thousands of paramedics manning diagnostic and imaging centres, doing MRI/blood or ECG scans or doing other jobs in private hospitals do not have ‘valid’ or ‘recognised’ degrees or certificates or the right training for carrying out such critical tasks.
Till date, despite the urgent need for skilled paramedical staff in India, there is no regulatory authority to monitor and check the quality of paramedical training programmes. Bodies like the Para Medical Council of India or the All India Paramedical Technology & Alternative Medicine Council are private societies registered under the Society Registration Act and owned by people who have devised the curricula for various paramedical programmes in medical laboratory technology, radiology imaging technology etc. Various institutes across the country are affiliated to these societies and are running their courses for a hefty fee.
“As the diplomas or certificates of such institutes do not have the proper government recognition their candidates are not absorbed in government hospitals and health centres. Many of the unskilled candidates open pathology labs and diagnostic centres and sometimes become quacks. Not only that, they bring a bad name to the medical profession and often fail to properly diagnose diseases – at grave risk to a patient’s life. ” says Dr KK Aggarwal, a well-known cardiologist and senior national vice president, Indian Medical Association (IMA).
Since there is no ­regulatory authority on the lines of the Medical Council of India (MCI - which regulates medical ­studies) to standardise course curriculum, infrastructure and faculty, many societies ­registered as paramedical ‘councils’ have mushroomed across the country.
What is a matter of grave ­concern is that despite paying the fees and spending time studying at the institutes affiliated to the private paramedical councils and societies, many students complain about not being trained adequately for employment. And that is because a majority of the institutes fail to provide training equipment, good infrastructure and well-qualified faculty. Gudiya Sen, a student from Rajasthan, who did a multipurpose health worker vocation course from an institute affiliated to the Para Medical Council Rajasthan, found herself ineligible for a job in a government health department because her certificate was considered invalid.
She and 50 others filed a case in the Rajasthan High Court, pleading that the course be treated at par with auxiliary nursing midwifery, which is regulated by the Rajasthan Nursing Council. The court refused to entertain her plea.
The issue of unregulated paramedical courses came in the limelight when, in 2011, the Punjab and Haryana High Court passed serious strictures against the Para Medical Council (Pb) and its affiliate institutes and said that its advertisements had “serious portents of public mischief, with gullible youth being enticed on promises that jobs are available for the taking from government departments.” It was in fact the Council that had in a plea before the high court sought protection from various health authorities in Punjab that had inquired into the Council’s credentials as a course provider for paramedical programmes. Rebuking the Council for claiming to be affiliated to the ‘Open University’ at Colombo, the court called it “an attempt to hoodwink the public into believing that it is a recognised institute and that persons undergoing training will secure jobs from government departments.”
Passing the order, the high court judge had said, “I have gone beyond the brief in directing action against the petitioners only because I am convinced that there is an attempt to bring legitimacy to their existence with foundations in quicksand that can harm public interest. The petitioners shall be entitled to no protection and the state machineries shall be at full liberty to take appropriate criminal action both under Indian Penal Code (IPC) and under the provisions of the Central Veterinary Council Act in so far as they offer any course in veterinary pharmacy and issue misleading advertisements in print and electronic media.”
The Council later got a stay on prosecution from the Supreme Court. In their defence, representatives of private paramedical councils and societies say that in the absence of any regulatory law, they cannot be labelled as “fake” or “illegal”. “We don’t claim to have any affiliation with the University Grants Commission or MCI or any such body. We also don’t award a degree certificate. We are offering diploma and certificate courses because there is a huge demand for paramedical staff,” says HK Misra, chairman, Para Medical Council of India.
There is an urgent need to have a regulatory authority to standardise paramedical studies ---- Dr KK Aggarwal, senior national vice president, IMA