Jul 25, 2013

    Graft keeps China hospitals afloat

    BRIBERY is the lubricant that helps keep China's public hospitals running, and the health system would struggle to function without illegal payments to poorly-paid doctors and administrators, say medical practitioners and industry experts.

    The profession's ugly underbelly was exposed last week when police accused British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) of bribing officials and doctors for six years to boost sales and prices of its medicines.

    The corruption stems largely from the doctors' low base salaries, which are set in line with a pay scale for government workers, reported Reuters.

    A doctor fresh out of medical school in Beijing earns about 3,000 yuan (S$614) a month including bonuses - roughly the same as a taxi driver. A doctor with 10 years' experience makes around 10,000 yuan a month.

    "Without the grey income, doctors would not have the incentive to practise," said Dr Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

    Low base salaries are a legacy of China's planned economy, said Dr Jia Xijin, associate professor at the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University in Beijing, explaining the dilemma faced by the government.

    China has committed to making health care affordable for its 1.37 billion people.

    According to Reuters, public hospitals have said that recruiting new doctors is getting harder as many physicians are turned off by the wages at a time when patient numbers are growing.

    A former doctor at a major heart hospital in Beijing said eradicating corruption would be nearly impossible.

    "It would be easy to find out who was taking money if the government wanted to," said the cardiologist, who has been working in the United States since 2009. "But everyone would be found guilty. How could the hospitals survive?"

    A GSK spokesman told My Paper that the company is operating as usual in Singapore, in spite of the corruption allegations in China.

    She added that GSK would take action against employees, suppliers and business partners for corrupt behaviours.