Chinese hospitals bow to social media pressure over ‘poor service’ of uncomfortably low service counters

Photo of kneeling patients provokes sympathy – and then a response including staff suspensions and alterations to counters

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 6:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 6:17pm

Two hospitals in China criticised online and even by the country’s top corruption watchdog for their uncomfortably low service counters and a lack of chairs have improved their facilities, it has been reported.

Last Friday, a picture of an old man on his knees at a cashier counter in Gansu Li County No 1 People’s Hospital, in southern Gansu province in central China, was circulated widely online, provoking sympathy and heated discussion about the hospital’s inconveniently low cashier windows, according to ThePaper.cn.

Within a few hours, the county’s health and family planning bureau, which supervises the hospital, had apologised in a statement via its official social media account.

It said on WeChat that there had been chairs initially but that they had been lost because of poor management and had not been put back.

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It added that the old man in the photo had chronic heart disease and arthritis, felt out of breath and had pain in his feet, and had knelt while reimbursing his wife’s medical expenses.

On Monday, the bureau issued a second statement that said it had “transformed” the cashier counters by installing fixed chairs and adding more windows specifically for patients with special needs.

The hospital also suspended the head of its settlement department and the cashier who was serving the old man in the picture.

The case drew attention from corruption watchdog Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, in Beijing. A critical editorial published by the commission’s official newspaper China Discipline Inspection Daily on Tuesday said the “negligence” of the hospital was essentially “a lack of service awareness”.

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“It’s not hard to see that such cashier windows are too low,” it stated. “How could it be convenient for people? These problems have been there for a long time, but the hospital has ignored them. It is not something that you could write off as ‘negligence’.”

Coincidentally or not, similar problems were exposed at a community health centre in Anhui province, in eastern China, after pictures of patients squatting uncomfortably at the cashier counters were posted on Weibo, China’s Twitter, on Monday.

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The low counters at the health centre in Baohe district in Hefei, the capital of Anhui, caused patients some discomfort when they tried to communicate with cashiers and doctors through the windows, according to a report in Chongqing Daily.

On Tuesday, the local regulator of the health centre said in a statement that it had disassembled cashier windows and added chairs, while promising further “appropriate alterations” to counters.