Frequently Asked Questions About the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Profession Act 2021
A Brief Guide for Mental and Behavioural Health Professionals
After years of discussions, the legislation for allied and healthcare professions was recently passed by the Parliament of India. It received the assent of the President on March 28, 2021 and became the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions Act, 2021 (NCAHP Act 2021). As many psychologists are unaware of the contents of this Act, there are questions and confusions. Therefore, in collaboration with COSAS Community, I have developed a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) guide. Please note that this piece is only for general information and is not a professional legal opinion. For many questions, there are no answers under the NCAHP Act 2021. Those questions may be answered by the rules and regulations to be framed later.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the objectives of the NCAHP Act 2021?
As stated in the long title of the Act, its objectives are “regulation and maintenance of standards of education and services by allied and healthcare professionals, assessment of institutions, maintenance of a Central Register and State Register and creation of a system to improve access, research and development and adoption of latest scientific advancement.”
Who are allied and healthcare professionals?
The term “allied and healthcare professionals” includes two kinds of professionals who have obtained a recognized diploma or degree through regular learning mode under the NCAHP Act 2021: allied health professionals and healthcare professionals.
Who are allied health professionals?
As per this Act, an allied health professional is “an associate, technician or technologist who is trained to perform any technical and practical task to support diagnosis and treatment of illness, disease, injury or impairment, and to support implementation of any healthcare treatment and referral plan recommended by a medical, nursing or any other healthcare professional.” They should have obtained a qualification of degree or diploma with a coursework of minimum 2,000 hours spread over a period of two years to four years.
Who are healthcare professionals?
A healthcare professional “includes a scientist, therapist or other professional who studies, advises, researches, supervises or provides preventive, curative, rehabilitative, therapeutic or promotional health services.” They should have a qualification of degree with a coursework of minimum 3,600 hours spread over a period of three to six years.
Which mental health professions are included under this law?
First, the NCAHP Act 2021 uses the term ‘behavioural health’, not ‘mental health’. The professions included under Behavioural Health Sciences category are:
a) Psychologist (Except Clinical Psychologist covered under RCI for PWD)
b) Behavioural Analyst
c) Integrated Behaviour Health Counsellor
d) Health Educator and Counsellors including Disease Counsellors, Diabetes Educators, Lactation Consultants
e) Social workers including Clinical Social Worker, Psychiatric Social Worker, Medical Social Worker
f) Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Counsellors or Family Planning Counsellors, and
g) Mental Health Support Workers.
The Act also includes Movement Therapist (including Art, Dance and Movement Therapist or Recreational Therapist) under the Other Care Professionals category.
Why does this law use the term ‘behavioural health’ and not ‘mental health’?
It does not state the reason for using the term ‘behavioural health’. Instead, it simply claims that “‘Behavioural health’ is the preferred term to ‘mental health’.”
What are the definitions of professional titles?
The Act does not provide the definitions of professions. The Government of India has used International Labour Organization’s International Standard Classification of Occupations - 08 (ISCO - 08) to identify and map the professions, and hence, it argued that “the ISCO document already includes the definition of each profession.”
Why are clinical psychologists excluded from this Act?
The education and practice of clinical psychologists is regulated by an already existing statutory body, the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI), and therefore, they are excluded from this Act.
How can a professional register themselves under this Act and who would be the licensing authorities?
A person with recognized allied and healthcare qualification can register themselves with the respective State Allied and Healthcare Council or the National Commission, which would serve as licensing authorities. They will maintain the State Register and the Central Register, respectively. After registering with the State Council, the registered professionals' names will automatically be entered in the Central Register, enabling them to practice all over the country. Moreover, as per Section 38 of the Act, those professionals who are already offering their services can apply for provisional registration as per the regulations to be specified.
What is the difference between state license and national license?
The State Council is the primary registration body. After the professionals are registered with the State Council, their names will be entered in the National Register as well.
For how long a certificate of registration is valid?
As per the Section 33(4), the certificate of registration of an allied and healthcare professional shall be valid for a period of five years and will require to be renewed thereafter.
Can professionals with distance learning degrees also register under the NCAHP Act 2021?
This law recognizes qualifications obtained through regular learning mode only. Therefore, those who possess distance learning qualifications would not be able to register.
If someone has obtained one degree through distance mode and another one in a regular manner — for instance, a master’s in psychology via distance mode and an MPhil in Counseling Psychology via regular mode — would they be able to register?
The Act does not have a stated answer to this question. Most likely, the answer is no, but we should wait for the rules and regulations for clarity.
If someone has obtained a bachelor’s in another field and a master’s in psychology, would they be able to register?
Again, the Act does not have a stated answer to this question.
Are minimum 3,600 hours supposed to be covered in one degree or multiple degrees?
From the language of the Act, it appears that they would need to be covered in one degree spanning 3 to 6 years at undergraduate level. However, since psychologists usually obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees, the calculation of 3,600 hours over multiple degrees would most likely be allowed.
How many hours are mandated for supervision and practical training?
The Act does not specify minimum hours of supervision and practical training required.
Can I call myself a psychologist after master’s degree?
Yes, if a master’s degree becomes the recognized qualification under the rules to be framed, you can use Psychologist as your title after obtaining master’s degree in psychology and registering with a State Council.
Would there be uniform entrance and exit/licensing examinations?
Yes, the Act provides for uniform entrance and exit/licensing examinations, which would standardize the process of admissions and licensing across India.
Would the degrees obtained abroad be recognized?
Yes, as per Section 39(1), “any corresponding qualification granted by the institutions outside India shall be the recognised allied and healthcare qualifications as may be specified by regulations.”
Would the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) have any role to play in the licensing of professionals under this Act?
No, the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions is separate from the RCI. A person representing RCI would be a member of the Commission, but the RCI itself would not be the licensing body for psychologists except clinical ones.
How will the Act impact higher education in psychology?
One of the functions of the National Commission is providing “basic standards of education, courses, curricula, physical and instructional facilities, staff pattern, staff qualifications, quality instructions, assessment, examination, training, research, continuing professional education, maximum tuition fee payable in respect of various categories, proportionate distribution of seats and promote innovations.” It is expected that teaching and research would receive major boost, with particular emphasis on learning practical skills. The lack of availability of supervision is a major issue in psychology right now, which is expected to be solved as after the implementation of this law, it would be mandatory for the institutions to create facilities for providing supervision.
Will this Act open up new job opportunities?
For a proper implementation of the NCAHP Act, 2021, thousands of psychologists would be needed to be employed. However, that would require a large amount of budget for the mental health sector also. If the government actually increases the expenditure on mental health, then thousands of new job opportunities would be created. Moreover, the registration and standardization would increase career prospects in private sector also.
Will the universities need extra accreditation?
Yes, the Act contains provisions for recognition of allied and healthcare institutions. These provisions include basic standards of education and necessary facilities in respect of staff, equipment, accommodation, training, and hospital. If an institution fails to maintain the minimum essential standards specified by the Commission, the State Council may issue warning, impose fine, reduce intake or stop admissions and recommend to the Commission the withdrawal of recognition.
Does the Act contain any ethical standards to be maintained by psychologists?
The regulation of the professional conduct, code of ethics and etiquette to be observed by the allied and healthcare professionals is one of the functions of the National Commission. The Allied and Healthcare Profession Ethics and Registration Board, under the State Council, shall be primarily responsible for regulation of the professional conduct and promotion of ethics.
What will happen if someone practices without a license?
If someone uses the title or description of a profession mentioned in the NCAHP Act, 2021 without registration in the Central Register or a State Register, a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh may be imposed on first conviction. On subsequent conviction, there is provision of imprisonment up to 1 year and fine up to Rs 2 lakhs.
What are the drawbacks of the NCAHP Act 2021?
Well, as far as psychology is concerned, the problems with the NCAHP Act start from the name of the profession itself: Behavioural Health Sciences. The major drawbacks include the inadequate and incomplete definition of the professional category, absence of patient centric provisions like informed consent and advance directive, division of psychologists between multiple legislations and ministries, clubbing of other professions with behavioural health sciences category, lack of clarity on definitions and scope of individual professions, creation of an unnecessary and imaginary hierarchy between behavioural health sciences professionals and mental health professionals, no provision for degrees already obtained under distance learning mode, and acute under-representation of psychologists. You may read a detailed analysis of drawbacks here.
If you have any questions, which have not been answered in this FAQs guide, please leave a comment.
Acknowledgements: I am grateful to all the organizations which invited me to speak on various versions of this legislation. I am immensely thankful to COSAS for inviting me to speak and collaborating on this article. Special thanks are due to Kantadorshi Parashar, Rashi Trehan and Kadambari for reviewing the drafts of the articles on this legislation and providing outstanding feedback. My deep gratitude to Rashi for creating embodied photographs, which accompany all of my articles.
About COSAS: COSAS is a community-oriented mental health organization working towards creating a mental health inclusive society. It offers services in psychology internships, training and courses to anyone aiming to be a mental health advocate and ally. To know more about them and what they do, please log on to www.cosas.org.in or follow them on Instagram (@cosascommunity).