Inspectors uncover embezzlement, gouging at Vietnam public hospital

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Ho Chi Minh City health inspectors have found Nguyen Tri Phuong public hospital using unauthorized drug and equipment suppliers, doctors there embezzling hospital assets, and overcharging.

The inspectors have ordered Ta Quang Luyen, head of the scans department, and its chief diagnostician Nguyen Hien Chanh to return more than VND656 million (US$31,000) they pocketed by selling unused film and cream for multislice CT scans between 2010 and July last year.

Le Thanh Hai, head of the ophthalmology department, was ordered to return more than VND35.6 million worth of cream used in cataract surgeries that he had stolen from the hospital and sold.

In the last two years the hospital had charged patients 14 percent more than the standard VND700,000 for an MSCT scan, doing 16,325 of them in the period.

It had also extracted extra money from many patients for surgeries and other procedures by sending them to a section where they have to pay more for getting certain privileges.

Most public hospitals in Vietnam have such a section where wealthier patients can go for shorter queues and during non-working hours. But this section is normally not permitted to handle emergencies and most surgeries.

Nguyen Thi Hung, the hospital director, said all the offending doctors have been removed from their management positions if any.

Their violations may have caused financial losses to the hospital and patients but did not affect treatment quality, he said.

The hospital bought equipment from Hanoi-based Thanh An Company and Thanh Cong Medical Equipment Company though they did not have the required experience and capability, the inspectors said without specifying.

It made purchases worth around VND60 billion (US$2.84 million) in 2011 and 2012.

The inspection of Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital was part of a wider probe by city health authorities following Thanh Nien's exposure earlier this year of fraud and other wrongdoing at many public facilities.

Earlier this month they ordered five senior officials at Ho Chi Minh City's leading hospital, Binh Dan, to pay back to the government more than VND3 billion ($142,230) they had pocketed by allowing some private companies to install CT and other scanners at the hospital and getting a 20-40 percent cut on scanning fees.

Many doctors at HCMC Orthopedics Hospital were caught taking money to allow patients to jump the queue for surgery.

Its X-ray technicians cheated patients out of nearly VND250 million ($12,000) every month since at least 2007 by charging them for superior X-ray films but giving them lower quality ones and by taking several X-rays on one film and cutting it into smaller ones.

The inspectors are also looking into accusations of sale of expired drugs at Nhan Dan 115, an emergency facility.

Corruption at public hospitals has been a persistent problem in Vietnam.

Critics blame factors like overload, red tape, low payment for staff, and bribery by medical equipment and pharmaceutical companies for selling their products.

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