Traditional Chinese medicine should be prescribed as part of a cure for the nation's escalating medical costs, a senior mainland health official told a forum in Beijing yesterday. Wang Xiaopin, deputy head of the Department of International Co-operation at the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said spending on medicine and health was soaring and treatment had become too expensive for most people. 'Traditional medicine should play an important role in solving the problem, because its diagnostic procedures are easier, its raw materials are plentiful and the cost is relatively low,' Ms Wang told the China-US Health Care Forum. Despite the central government's repeated demands for price cuts, industry insiders say the cost of many drugs is still 'groundlessly high'. Analysts say it is an open secret that because of a lack of government support for the health system, doctors take kickbacks in return for prescribing expensive medicine or unnecessary tests. 'China is a poor country with a big health system ... it is essential that we tap the potential of all resources, including traditional medicine,' Ms Wang said. She said about half of the country's million or so rural doctors were traditional practitioners or used other medicinal approaches. A Ministry of Health survey released late last year indicated that the average cost of outpatient treatment had increased from 21 yuan to 75 yuan between 1993 and 2003, and the cost of inpatient care had risen from 933 yuan to 2,233 yuan.