The 80th session of the National Assembly endorsed the medical and health council Act, 2002, which will regulate ethical and quality standards in the medical and health profession.While the Act will broadly monitor the development of the Bhutanese health care system it contains specific provisions on the code of conduct and professional ethics of the health and medical service providers in the country.
It will also ensure the quality of health services both in terms of training institutes and individuals and take care of capacity development of the medical profession in the country.
According to the Act a national medical and health council will be formed, comprising health and medical professionals nominated by the council president, and representatives of relevant organizations. The council will frame rules and regulations to fulfill the objectives of the Act.
An executive committee of five to seven members, appointed by the council president, will administer the council which will function through seven sub-committees.
The council will be a national register of medical and health professionals recognised by the council and also a register for visiting expatriate professionals. No medical or health professional except those registered under the Act will be allowed to practice in the country. A person who is registered under the Act may practice in the country, issue medical certificates, prescribe medicines, be appointed in a government institution, and deposit testimony in the court of law as an expert witness.
Any health and medicine institution established in the country must seek prior sanction of the council. The council will certify an institution or course if it is satisfied that they meet the prescribed standards. Based on reports submitted by its sub committees the council may withdraw recognition of an institution or individual. Besides being de-recognised, individuals or institutions committing offenses will be dealt with as per the laws for damage or injury.
A minister, deputy minister or the secretary of the ministry of health and education will serve as council president and a deputy minister or the health secretary will serve as the vice-president.
The council will meet at least twice a year with at least three-fourths of the members present to conduct a meeting.
Addressing the Assembly the health and education minister, Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, said that even as the Bhutanese people continued to enjoy free health services an Act to regulate the development and maintain the quality of health services in the country was essential.
For example there was the danger of both modern and traditional doctors, not recognised by the health sector, emerging in the urban areas and putting at risk the lives of many people.
The Assembly had in the past expressed concern about drugs and medicines being prescribed by people not certified or recognised by the health sector, said Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup. The Act would therefore provide the legal basis to regulate and control such developments. It is an important tool to ensure the safety and well being of the people and also regulate the quality and standard of the health services in the country.
Assembly members welcomed the new Act stating that it was aimed at ensuring the health and well-being of the Bhutanese people in the future.
Under His Majestys leadership and guidance the health sector has seen major improvements over the years and this Act will only further strengthen the health services in the country, said the Wangduephodrang chimi.
While the training for village health workers (VHW) and sanitation and hygiene was of immense benefit to the people, the Paro chimi also pointed out that ordinary people often faced difficulties in getting treatment in the dzongkhag or village. Those who know the system and have authority do not face any problems but when we villagers fall sick and go to hospital we are told that it is either a holiday or that it is too late in the evening, he said.
The Haa chimi said that patients were sometimes asked to buy their own medicines. The health sector, he said, should monitor the kind of medicines sold by private medical shops.
The Paro dzongda refuted the claim by some members that only the influential and well-connected had easy access to health facilities while the villagers and the poor were ignored. I have never received such a complaint in my dzongkhag and as far as I know there is only one policy, not two, on the delivery of health services, he said.
The health secretary, Dr. Sangay Thinlay, also submitted that, contrary to what some chimis had indicated, the health ministry always had an adequate supply of medicines. He agreed that there might have been a few cases because of certain difficulties or because of the type of sickness where the patient may have been asked to buy the medicine. But such cases are rare, he said. He also informed the Assembly that the health sector already had a policy in place to monitor the medicines sold by private medical shops in the country.
Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup clarified that the medical and health council Act, 2002, was framed to take care of problems expressed by the chimis.
The Act considers professional work ethics and health workers are bound to abide by it, he said. What we know is that health workers are working to the best of their abilities but if they have violated the Act then there are provisions for penalties.