Modern drugs must be handled by professionals specifically trained for the purpose and not by me-too Medical Assistants
Mr Altaf Bukhari, a businessman turned politician, has championed the unjustified cause of unqualified pharmacists in an article titled, ‘Don’t ruin careers of over 20,000 Medical Assts’. Ever since the reorganisation of State of J&K into two UTs of J&K and Ladakh, central laws have replaced the erstwhile state laws, some of which were archaic and had been distorted by politico-bureaucratic manoeuvres. One such unhealthy practice related to the enrolment of Medical Assistants as Pharmacists under the State Pharmacy Act of 1956, which has now been replaced by the central Pharmacy Act of 1948. Medical Assistants are healthcare professionals trained for assisting doctors in medical and surgical procedures, including minor surgical procedures, dressings, giving injections, applying plasters, etc. Their job is of the same nature as of Ophthalmic Assistants, Medical Laboratory Assistants, Sanitary Assistants, OT Assistants, etc.
Medical Assistants are different from Pharmacists in terms of training and job requirements. There are, therefore, separate posts for the two categories in government service. Pharmacists belong to a different category of professionals with training and job requirements vastly different, ranging from training in drug manufacture, quality control of drugs, drug jurisprudence, drug related management issues, to dispensing and compounding of drugs. J&K happened to be one of the few states where pharmacy profession was administratively controlled by the Health Department. In most states in the country, it happens to be under the control of Directorate of Technical Education. Barring the States of J&K, Rajasthan and Karnataka, pharmacy education is conducted not by Medical/ Paramedical Boards or by Medical Universities but by Boards of Technical Education and Technical Universities.
Mr Bukhari happens to be a politician with a degree in agriculture. He has an advantage over political colleagues with lesser academic credentials. As such, he is expected to have been more careful before in making the sweeping statement that the syllabi of the Diploma in Pharmacy course and of the Medical Assistant course are almost similar. The Diploma in Pharmacy course requires the study of 12 subjects and practicals in six laboratories conducted by teachers who have at least a postgraduate qualification in an area of pharmacy. How can such training be compared to the training given by medical professionals in the one-room institutions that run Medical Assistant training courses?
Those expounding the cause of Medical Assistants for registering as pharmacists are probably unaware of the fact that the doctors who plan the drug treatment of patients and are very well versed with pharmacological sciences are not eligible to be registered as pharmacists as per the Pharmacy Act 1948. Medical professionals therefore should have a superior claim to be registered as pharmacists.
The problem of Medical Assistants needs to be solved by different means by the UT administration, by creating more job opportunities for these health professionals in their own cadre, instead of appropriating the legitimate share of pharmacy professionals. Many of these pharmacy graduates and diploma holders trained within the state and outside have been jobless for years now. In fact, injustice has been done to pharmacy graduates/ diploma holders by successive state governments in equating them with Medical Assistants. This injustice has at last been redressed by way of exit of Article 370. Mr Bukhari’s prescription amounts to negating the benefits of a more rational and scientific pharmacy practice in the UT. He must understand that healthcare delivery is an issue that involves human life, unlike the jumping exercise from a green wagon to a saffron one.
A saying in Kashmiri language, ‘kar-e-gilkarbazari-ye-najar’, best describes the approach Mr Bukhari has adopted while endorsing the claim of Medical Assistants. Modern drugs are highly effective medical tools that need to be used with care for their potential harmful side effects; thus, these medications demand to be handled by professionals specifically trained for the purpose and not by me-too Clinical Assistants. Pharmacy qualified personnel need to come forward and negate the Goebbels type of misinformation campaign unleashed by protagonists of the Medical Assistant lobby so that the god-sent opportunity of being integrated with the mainstream pharmacy profession does not get compromised by those with vested interests and for whom political and commercial interests override patient safety.
The writer is Senior Clinical Research Scientist at Sun Pharma and Spokesperson of J&K Pharmacy Graduates Association.