About 70 hospitals and nearly 1,100 medical professionals have been caught up in a drugs-for-kickbacks probe in Zhangzhou, Fujian province.
The investigation was the latest in series of crackdowns on medical corruption, including the punishment of 39 hospital executives and doctors in Gaozhou, Guangdong, yesterday who took 2.8 million yuan (HK$3.5 million) in kickbacks.
In Zhangzhou, a six-month investigation by disciplinary watchdogs found that 73 hospitals, including 22 major health centres, had traded prescriptions for high-priced drugs for bribes and kickbacks.
A total of 1,088 doctors and 133 administrative management workers were found to have taken illegal payments, with a combined 20.5 million yuan surrendered to the authorities.
Exorbitant drug prices have for years been the centre of complaints about the mainland's health system. National authorities have launched numerous initiatives to lower the prices of common drugs, with little progress to show for it.
Li Ling, an expert in the reform of public hospitals at Peking University, said corruption stemmed from hospitals relying heavily on drug sales for revenue, a system that bound hospitals, manufacturers and distributors in an "interest chain".
"Medical corruption is common across the country and Zhangzhou is just the tip of an iceberg," Li told CCTV.
He said most hospitals still had drug surcharges. An increase in government funding and medical insurance had only made the problem worse.
A CCTV report quoted a Zhangzhou drug salesman as saying that a single injection of clindamycin phosphate, which is used to treat acne, could be sold to patients for 11.5 yuan, even though it cost less than one yuan to produce. More than half of such margins went to cover "public relations" fees to bribe officials and doctors.
The Strait Herald of Fuzhou reported that one drug saleswoman in Zhangzhou offered sex services to hospital directors and doctors to ensure her company's products were used.