Vietnam capital promises to protect hospital-fraud whistleblower

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 Hoang Thi Nguyet, a medical technician at Hanoi's Hoai Duc public hospital who exposed a massive scam involving other technicians who copied blood-test results and randomly handed them to patients. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Hanoi authorities have rewarded and promised protection for a medical technician who worked tirelessly to collect evidence and blow the whistle on a blood-test scam at a public hospital that affected around a thousand patients.

Hoang Thi Nguyet, 46, has become famous over the past week, with people referring to her as "Nguyet Hoai Duc," after the name of the hospital.

Nguyet reported to the city Department of Health that a group of technicians used the result of each blood test to duplicate reports for others.

The city Party uniy, condemning the scam, praised Nguyet and two others in her team for standing up to the fraud, and ordered the health department and other related agencies to protect them from reprisals and vindictive action by superiors.

She and two people helping her expose the scam each received a cash reward of VND320,000 (US$15) plus a certificate of merit from Hanoi health department, in a less than half-an-hour ceremony on Friday.

Authorities have been discussing at many top-level meetings about the need to honor and protect whistleblowers for the sake of fighting corruption.

The discussions were prompted by stories about whistleblowers being victimized, like a group of men in central Vietnam who spent years fighting corruption related to land deals only to face hurdles receive threats including from local officials.

Hanoi health department launched its own investigation into the Hoa Duc fraud in May, and last week demanded an explanation from the hospital.

The investigation confirmed that between July last year and May it had issued around 1,000 test results that contained up to four duplicated ones.

It found the scam only targeted outpatients with insurance cards, and by charging many people without actually testing their blood, the team had swindled and pocketed around VND60 million (US$2,844).

A probe is still on to find out if the faked results were used for treatment to decide the severity of the situation and punishment for those found guilty.

Hard task

Nguyet told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that her journey to reveal the truth, which started in July last year, was not a smooth one.

"I have lost five kilograms, been sleepless many nights, and constantly have a headache."

She started to notice the problem after the hospital's technicians were divided into two teams, one each to handle inpatients and outpatients.

She was in the three-member inpatients team which tested three to 20 people every day, while the other group, comprising six people, got 200 to 300 people.

She was surprised that the latter could always finish its work quickly before discovering what it was up to.

She would see infants screaming when blood was drawn for testing and then the samples being thrown away. The babies' parents would be given test results copied from those of other people.

"One time a 46-year-old epilepsy patient received a blood test result with the same values as a three-year-old with bronchitis."

Nguyet and her team members Phan Thi Oanh and Phan Nam Dong complained about the practice at internal meetings, but nothing was done by their superiors. So they decided to collect evidence and act themselves.

This made the three of them outcasts, and they received notes with obscenities from members of the other diagnostic team. But, in an act of brazenness, the latter continued with their scam.

Oanh, head of the examination department, played an important role in installing small cameras in their room.

They also collected copies of blood test results to prove that many of them were the same as each other.

But this was not fruitful since the other team began to make random changes to test results to reduce the similarities.

"I have had quick lunches and stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning to check the copies."

Nguyet told Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer) newspaper that she was frustrated to work in an "unhealthy" and "autocratic" environment and that her complaints were ignored, and sad to see patients treated badly, so she decided to take up the fight despite being afraid of the possible consequences.

She is relieved now that the scam has been made public.

But she also wanted her two colleagues to be given credit and justice to be provided to affected patients.

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