Directive bans patients from making 'cash gifts' to hospital doctors

Some medics welcome move to end payment of 'red packets', but others contend practice will endure as long as health worker wages stay low

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 12:19pm

Doctors and patients in mainland hospitals will be required to sign a declaration banning the payment of cash-filled "red packets" and other gifts from May 1, under a national health commission directive.

Some doctors praised the move, but others questioned the usefulness of asking the two parties to go through what was likely to be just a formality.

Hospitals graded secondary or tertiary will have to present the document to patients within 24 hours of admission, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission's directive. Patients must also sign it and promise not to give gifts.

Zhi Xiuyi, deputy president of the Beijing Doctors Association and a professor of Capital Medicine University's lung cancer centre, believed the measure would deter some doctors from accepting gifts, although the key was to discourage patients and their families from offering them in the first place.

"We've been trying to stamp out the practice for many years, but many people insist on giving red packets. They worry about medical standards if doctors don't receive them," he said.

"The best way to let patients feel comfortable without having to pay extra money is to improve the medical system."

Many people insist on giving red packets. They worry about medical standards if doctors don't receive them
Zhi Xiuyi, Beijing Doctors Association

Mainland doctors are paid less than 10,000 yuan (HK$12,700) a month, so a red packet containing 1,000 or 2,000 yuan is a temptation some doctors find hard to resist.

Lawyer Liu Zhiwei told the Yangzhou Evening News that doctors were governed by a professional code and the law, and should not accept kickbacks.

"Since doctors aren't supposed to accept red packets in the first place, such agreements seem redundant," he said.

Doctors were also banned from taking commissions for prescribing drugs, a common practice among low-paid doctors.

Eric Chong, of the Chinese Hospital Association, told the Beijing Times he did not expect the move "would help eliminate a deep-rooted practice", but could only serve as a reminder.

Jin Mengyue, 25, who recently had her appendix removed at a hospital in Beijing, admitted tipping her doctor 1,000 yuan.

"Everyone gives red packets to doctors. It's a hidden rule that is very widely applied. Some doctors ask for it, too," she said. "The new requirement will be just a formality, but red packets will still be given and accepted."