Baidu scandal: spotlight on China military hospitals’ outsourcing practice after young man’s cancer death
Hospital may have outsourced department where student Wei Zexi sought experimental treatment for his rare cancer, to a private medical group
China’s military and health authorities are investigating a scandal-hit hospital run by the paramilitary police over allegations it outsourced medical care to dubious private organisations.
The announcement on Tuesday came amid a growing outcry over the death of Wei Zexi, a 21-year-old student who died after receiving an experimental cancer treatment known as immunotherapy at the No 2 Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps.
Wei underwent the procedure, which cost his family more than 200,000 yuan (HK$240,000), after using online search engine Baidu to research treatments. The hospital’s details topped the list returned by Baidu, but failed to save Wei and he died last month.
The scandal is the latest to involve institutions paying Baidu to feature their details prominently in search results.
China launches probe into Baidu over paid search listings after student dies following cancer treatment sourced online
Shares in Baidu, traded in the US, slumped almost 8 per cent on the Nasdaq as China’s internet watchdog began investigating its search system.
An internal memo released to Baidu employees, cited by news website Thepaper.cn, said money had never been a single dominant factor in Baidu search results, and that the company had rejected more than 30 million fake medical promotion posts last year.
As the probe evolves, the spotlight has shifted to a practice common among military-affiliated hospitals, deemed reliable by most civilians, to outsource medical services to private firms.
WATCH: I still have dreams, says Wei Zexi in video before his death
The PLA Daily said the army would support the investigation, which is being carried out by the health bureau of the Central Military Commission and the National Health and Family Planning Commission. “The [army] will never tolerate any behaviour contrary to its principle of serving the people,” the PLA Daily said.
Media reports said the hospital’s biological treatment centre for oncology appeared to have been providing an outsourced service handled by a network of private health care providers that originated in Putian, Fujian. The network reportedly controls about 80 per cent of all mainland private hospitals.
In the 1990s, hundreds of people from Putian with little or no formal medical training were found to be working in military hospitals, where they sold home-made remedies and fake medicine at high prices.
Analyst Chen Daoyin said the excessive power and resources enjoyed by the military were at the root of the problems.
“The military is an independent kingdom alongside the central government that was not subject to monitoring in any form. The more power one gets, the more corrupt one becomes.”
The No 2 Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps insisted that its treatment centre was still under the hospital’s management and not the Putian network.