Vietnam police to probe pharma-doctor nexus

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The Drug Administration of Vietnam has handed over to police the case where a Germany-owned company allegedly paid doctors in Ho Chi Minh City commissions for prescribing its drug.

Administration head Truong Quoc Cuong also said Monday that they had received reports on the case from Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), which last year acquired Schering-Plough Company, the firm implicated in the case.

According to MSD, the hepatitis treatment products, Pegintron 50 and 80 mcg, for prescribing which doctors are accused of receiving commissions, were imported into Vietnam at cheaper prices compared to other nine Southeast Asian countries.

One of the two products, however, was more expensive than that of Laos, Cuong said.

Asked about MSD's response to allegations in local media reports of doctors being bribed, the official said the company has said they (allegations) may be related to one of its sales promotion campaigns.

The administration has transferred all related documents to the police and the Ministry of Health's inspectorates for further investigation, Cuong said.

Local media on March 17 reported that some doctors and pharmacists, including those working at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy and its hospital, were receiving commissions from Schering-Plough of between 10-30 percent of the drug's retail prices, about VND500 million (US$26,212) a month, to prescribe its drugs.

The exposure prompted Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to order an investigation into the case.

Soon after, a lecturer and two doctors from the university and its hospital were suspended.

In a separate case, the Ministry of Public Security's inspectorates (C37) on Monday put four doctors and an anesthetist under investigation on suspicion they were involved in a ring faking health insurance documents and medical prescriptions worth billions of dong in HCMC.

The suspects work in Dong Nai Province's Thong Nhat General Hospital and Pediatrics Hospital, Binh Phuoc Province's General Hospital, and HCMC's Thu Duc District General Hospital.

Since the ring, allegedly led by Luu To Lan, a doctor at HCMC-based Cho Ray's Endocrinology Department, was busted last May, at least 10 people, mostly doctors and health workers, have been questioned.

Initial investigations showed that Lan, who was arrested last June, and her accomplices collected health insurance cards from workers and faked documents showing that health insurance policy holders were transferred from other hospitals to Cho Ray.

The ring then faked prescriptions and obtained drugs that they sold. They were found to have made over 1,040 fake prescriptions costing VND3.536 billion (US$198,763) between January and April.

According to police, VND3.358 billion ($188,757) of the money would be refunded by the health insurance companies.

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