Health warning for medical sector

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am


It is not unusual on the mainland for doctors to be attacked by patients and their relatives. There has been a breakdown of trust which has taken the relationship in some cases to a deadly low. Murders are being committed and there is tight security around medical staff in some hospitals. A clash involving about 200 people, many armed with bars and sticks, in the capital of Jiangxi recently was a rarity, but nonetheless has to serve as a wake-up call to authorities that reforms under way are not working fast enough. Such incidents do not befit a nation that has achieved so much economically.

Nearly 100 armed relatives and friends of a patient who had died on the operating table were chased and attacked by a similarly-numbered group of men carrying wood and metal clubs as they tried to enter the hospital on Tuesday. In June, two people were beaten to death in a similar dispute at another medical facility in the city.

The British medical journal The Lancet reported recently that mainland doctors were concerned about their personal safety as they were often victims of violence. A survey of more than 14,000 doctors by a website revealed at least 90 per cent had seen at least one hospital dispute a month.

The reasons behind the anger are understandable. Market reforms that replaced a free national health system mean that provincial and local governments have to find 60 per cent of the funding for medical care. To meet the shortfall, hospitals and doctors impose stiff surcharges on examinations and drugs, overprescribing and charging excessive fees to make ends meet. Queues are long and service is poor.

Given the advances that the nation has made, patients deserve better. The central government must ensure that hospitals get the funds they need without having to exploit patients. But while investing more in the sector is necessary, it also has to encourage the setting up of private and joint public-private hospitals so that there can be better management and equipment. With good health being integral to a society's development, it is the least that should be expected.