Thanh Nien exposé sets off probe into HCMC hospitals

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Patients wait for treatment at the Ho Chi Minh City Orthopedics Hospital, but many bribe doctors to jump the queue. Photo by Thanh Tung

Ho Chi Minh City health authorities are looking into the functioning of many public hospitals following a series of reports by Thanh Nien on the malpractice and corruption going on there.

The city Department of Health has said  it is set to inspect the HCMC Orthopedics Hospital where, according to Thanh Nien reports last August, many doctors had to be bribed for patients to jump the queue for surgeries.

Thanh Nien, which wrote the story after six months of observation, said the hospital had almost been turned into a private clinic, treating many times more people who paid extra.

Even hospital staff had complained, the official said.

The department also received other complaints about the hospital -- forwarded by the police -- that some X-ray technicians cheated patients out of nearly VND250 million (US$12,000) a month since at least 2007 by charging them for superior X-ray films but giving them normal ones and by taking various X-rays on one film and cutting it into smaller ones, but charging patients for each.

The department made a check of the hospital soon afterwards, but the illegal practices did not stop, and more complaints were received.

Binh Dan Hospital, a major surgical center in the city, will be investigated for the use of scanners installed by some private parties instead of its own machines.

Most of the staff do not know how it works, only that the hospital director and some senior staff get a large amount of money for this.

Doctors are also paid extra to prescribe scans on these machines, with some worrying that some of their colleagues might be prescribing unnecessary scans.

The authorities will also look into the sale of expired medicines at Nhan Dan 115, an emergency facility.

Last month the hospital's pharmacy was found stocking medicines long past their expiration date, some as long ago as in 2010, and selling them to patients.

It then offered buyers money and gifts to get back the medicine and buy their silence.

Offering bribes or presents to doctors is a practice that has been plaguing the Vietnamese health system over the past years.

It has become so common and routine that people do not even recognize it as a corrupt practice that could undermine the health sector.

Experts have pointed out several major reasons for corruption in the health sector.

Overloaded hospitals, time-consuming red tape, low salaries and benefits for staff, commissions paid by pharmaceutical companies for prescribing their medicines, loose law enforcement, and professional incompetence are all factors that foster corruption in the healthcare sector.

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