The China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Chaoyangmen is considered a good hospital. It is set in a nice neighbourhood with a university down the street. Even so, on one recent afternoon, the queues were long and people were getting the obligatory 'three-minute' treatment. One man was there with his young son. He had taken time off work to bring him for treatment for what was most likely a minor bug. 'When it's a child, even if it's a cold, you have to check,' he said. The man, who said he made a reasonable salary, could have sent the boy with the family helper but said he 'couldn't trust the care' and wanted to be present. Last July, the State Council released a two-year study on the health-care system, finding it to be in dire straits. As the government-run system has been privatised, care for the tiny minority of very wealthy has become excellent. For everyone else, it has become prohibitively expensive. This issue is clearest when discussing the famously high savings rate among mainlanders. I'm often told that the primary reason is health care, because if there is an emergency, cash is essential to avoid big trouble. So dominating is saving for health that during a recent visit by a United States trade team, officials encouraged Beijing to improve the pension system to encourage people to spend money and even buy on credit, helping to level out the huge trade imbalance. It's hard to imagine quick changes in Beijing's big hospitals, known for long waiting times and informal care, but one idea is to improve community hospitals, allowing bigger city hospitals to treat the seriously ill. At the end of last year, there were 17,000 mainland community clinics, more than double that of three years ago, according to the Ministry of Health. They saw 59.4 million outpatients - more than 20 per cent of the urban population. However, for these clinics to work they need resources and trained staff. Many have suggested diverting some dividends earned from successful state-run companies into the health system. That is a good idea, but only if the money is going to places where it will be effective. Perhaps better community hospitals are one answer, taking the strain off bigger hospitals and giving those who can't afford private clinics another option. For the man waiting in line with his son, however, community hospitals would only be worthwhile if they provided a good standard of care. 'I need to trust that if my son does have something worse than a cold, the doctor would refer us to the right place,' he said. Without a doubt, for Beijing to thrive it will have to keep its growing - and ageing - population healthy. And that may mean some inventive solutions.