Local-level hospitals in Vietnam are so understaffed that many cannot even punish erring doctors or nurses, a former health official lamented.
Dr Ly Ngoc Kinh, a former head of the health ministry's Treatment and Examination Department, speaking to news website VietNamNet, recalled that a hospital in the southernmost province of Ca Mau had to close a department temporarily after its only doctor was suspended.
"Some districts in remote provinces only employ around 10 doctors for three medical centers. Since they are so few, most have to do administrative work rather than medical work," he said.
There are multiple layers to the problem, he said, explaining that district-level hospitals are unable to attract good doctors while at the same time losing experienced ones to bigger hospitals offering better salaries.
A recent report by the ministry said small hospitals are "hesitant" to send their staff for training fearing they would look for a better place after the training.
The shortage of doctors, especially good ones, at local hospitals is causing an overload at bigger hospitals, especially for pediatric and obstetrics treatment.
A recent survey by the Health Strategy and Policy Institute found that 90-95 percent of inpatients at the National Obstetrics Hospital in Hanoi came straight there rather than going first to their local hospitals.
The rate is 89-97 percent at the National Obstetrics Hospital in Hanoi and at Tu Du, the leading obstetrics hospital in HCMC.
The patients, across income levels, said they simply trusted the top hospitals more.
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