ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services (NHS) passed the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) Bill 2019, overriding resistance from its own subcommittee that was tasked with comprehensively reviewing the proposed legislation, after an in camera session.

Committee chair Senator Mian Ateeq Shaikh, who was previously a strong critic of the PMDC Ordinance, appeared to reverse his position and was eager to pass the bill.

In the first week of January, President Dr Arif Alvi promulgated the PMDC Ordinance 2019, under which a 17-member council would deal with matters related to medical colleges, attached hospitals and healthcare professionals.

The council was established and a bill in this regard was introduced in the Senate on March 7 and referred to the standing committee. The committee then formed a subcommittee, headed by Senator Dr Ashok Kumar, to discuss the bill and submit a report.

At a committee meeting on March 21, Senator Shaikh had pointed to then NHS minister Aamer Mehmood Kiani and told him he would not let him become “another Dr Asim Hussain”for the PMDC.

Bill will be tabled in upper house for voting on Aug 29

“You have managed to elect a close friend of yours as PMDC president, and it is not acceptable at all,” he had added. “All the members of the committee have concerns about this. The PMDC is such a huge regulatory body, but you have not included a single National Assembly or Senate member in it.”

On Monday, Dr Kumar told the committee meeting that the subcommittee has rejected the bill. However, Senator Shaikh directed PMDC representatives to give a briefing on the bill regardless.

This led to an argument between Dr Kumar and Senator Shaikh.

When Dr Kumar was informed that it was the committee chair’s discretion to seek a briefing, he responded that the chair was elected by the committee members.

Another member of the subcommittee, Dr Asad Ashraf, also said that there was no need for a briefing and the subcommittee’s report should be discussed.

Senator Ghous Mohammad Khan added that the PMDC had become a matter of embarrassment around the world.

The arguments led Senator Shaikh to suggest the meeting should be held in camera, and he directed the press to leave the committee room. An official statement was released by the Senate Secretariat a few hours later that said the committee, after amending parts of the bill and considering the subcommittee’s recommendations, had approved the PMDC Bill 2019.

Dr Kumar told Dawn the subcommittee rejected the bill because it was necessary to safeguard the PMDC.

He said that Leader of the House in the Senate Senator Shibli Faraz, who received a special invite to the meeting, gave an “assurance that he would talk to the prime minister to ensure transparency and merit in the council”.

“He also listened to us and it was decided that a number of amendments would be made in the bill to improve the council’s performance,” he said.

When asked about the amendments, Dr Kumar said it was agreed that one member each from both houses of parliament would be included in the council.

“There will be no role of the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan (CPSP) in the council’s decision making, and it will not be controlled by the CPSP. The president of the council will be a full-time council employee, will sit in the office regularly and will not do any other job,” he said.

“Moreover, it is observed that some members – such as Ali Raza and Amer Bilal – are chairmen of three or four committees. It was decided that one member can only become chairman of one committee [and part of] two committees, because there are only 13 committees in the council,” Dr Kumar said.

It was also decided that non-technical people would not be included in the council, he said.

The approved bill will be tabled in the upper house for voting on Aug 29, he added.

“Despite that, I doubt the bill will sail through the upper house. In 2015-16, then health minister Saira Afzal Tarar tried to pass a similar bill which came through an ordinance, but we opposed it despite being a coalition partner of the government. There are a number of doctors in the committee and the majority of them were against it. I believe the bill will be rejected by the upper house,” he said.

The ordinance will lapse on Sept 5, so the bill would have to be passed by both houses before it expires.

Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2019

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