Township hospitals and local clinics get a shot in the arm

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 December, 2010, 12:00am

Beijing has promised to provide more funding for grass-roots health care institutions, many of which lack sufficient resources to take up their new role under a policy designed to divert patients from big hospitals.

A key policy shift in the nation's health care reform allows local clinics and township hospitals to provide services such as treatment for less serious ailments, vaccinations and rehabilitation. But patients still swarm to large hospitals regardless of their illnesses because they lack confidence in poorly equipped and funded primary health care institutions.

After a State Council meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday, the government announced that it would increase subsidies to such grass-roots institutions. Many have suffered losses because they have been prescribing drugs on a basic medicine list to patients at prices capped by local authorities. The basic medicine list system aims to allow people to buy commonly used drugs cheaply - a policy designed to assuage public grievances over mounting medical bills.

Xinhua said yesterday that half of the nation's local clinics and township hospitals had been implementing the basic medicine scheme.

Apart from drug subsidies, the government will also increase the 15 yuan grant for each patient at such institutions next year, Xinhua reported, without saying how large the increase would be.

Yesterday's meeting also pledged more money to village-level clinics and called for local governments to give free land to such clinics and free housing to their staff.

Deputy Health Minister Zhang Mao told China Central Television late last month that it was difficult to launch similar reforms in big hospitals because the situation in city-level medical institutions was far more complicated.

He said all primary health care institutions should be providing basic medicines at government- designated prices by 2012.

In the past four years, the authorities have invested more than 50 billion yuan (HK$58.25 billion) to upgrade facilities at lower-level hospitals and clinics. But Zhang admitted that such institutions still suffered from a shortage of doctors. He said more than 1,000 big hospitals were asked to support smaller hospitals by sending them experienced doctors and nurses on a regular basis.