'No quick cure for sick health-care system'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 12:00am

Senior officials are calling for an overhaul of the mainland's medical system, but local leaders admit that the profession might be too sick for a quick cure.

During an inspection tour of Chongqing, Sichuan province, last week, Vice-Premier Li Lanqing discussed the urgent need to make health care affordable, improve service quality, introduce competition and allow patients freedom to choose their doctors and even their pharmacists.

He told medical cadres reforms of the system must go in tandem with a new medical insurance scheme which guarantees basic health care and hospital coverage.

'The core of reform is to introduce competition to every level of our medical system so that patients can choose their hospitals, doctors and even drug stores,' Mr Li was quoted by the People's Daily as saying.

He said that with competition, hospitals would strive to upgrade their services, doctors would sharpen their skills and practices and pharmacies would lower their prices. Mr Li expected the introduction of public tenders to decrease drug prices and lighten the 'public's medical burden'.

But two separate reports seemed to indicate that the problems might be far more serious than the cure prescribed. Guangdong Vice-Governor Li Lanfang said in a recent meeting with local cadres that the province's medical system was chaotic.

She said many hospitals and clinics were more concerned about their bottom line than patients' health. Medical frauds, often putting patients at risk, were common.

Ms Li lamented that many unqualified street-side clinics operated by renting space from, and in some cases even the names of, state-run hospitals. She called such street-side clinics 'parasites' which compromised the quality of medical services and bred corruption throughout the profession.

Meanwhile, a report by the New Evening Express yesterday showed that although the authorities have repeatedly warned against hospitals profiteering by selling expensive drugs, the practice continued.

A reporter from the newspaper who was suffering from an eye ailment was prescribed a special eye-drop by his doctor. He then bought the medicine from a top Beijing hospital for twice the official price. Quoting industry sources, the report said a doctor received 10 per cent of the proceeds of every eye-drop prescription.

'It appears the crux of the problem lies with the hospitals,' the report concluded.