Healthcare brokers ply illegal trade shamelessly
by Le Ha
I took my beloved three-year-old son to the National Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital on a hot sunny morning in early April. It was crowded and stuffy, and I felt uncomfortable standing in line with hundreds of other patients all waiting to be treated for all manner of illnesses.
My son could not stand the heat of the sun any longer, so I called a doctor who had treated him before. She told me to go to the security guards for instructions.
There were three or four guards sitting in their office in front of the hospital entrance. One of them asked me: "How can I help you?"
"I need a doctor to take a look at my kid's ears," I replied.
The man told me that I gave him VND500,000 (US$24), he could help me to see a doctor quickly.
I refused and queued up patiently, waiting my turn for another hour. However, women dressed in nurses uniforms seemed to be taking people through to see the doctors and ignoring me.
A girl beside me said: "You shouldn't fret, it's common in public hospitals. Wait, or if you don't want to wait, pay!"
"She was probably right. Paying would be quicker and healthier. I wouldn't have to wait in the sun in a bad mood, surrounded by sickness and disease. Poor patients who arrive at the hospital after a long commute, often from the countryside, sometimes have to wait for a day or more! I was not brave enough to do that, but it was unfair on them," I thought.
Pham Thanh Tra, a resident of Cau Giay District's Nghia Tan Street who has visited the Viet Nam – Germany Hospital and other hospitals in Ha Noi, said that in overloaded public hospitals such as the National Hospital of Paediatrics, the Central Obstetrics Hospital, K Hospital, the Central Eye Hospital and Bach Mai have long been a base for brokers to target patients who are from the countryside or young people.
At the National Cancer Hospital in Ha Noi, I found brokers offering two services: helping patients get quick check-ups at the hospital, and introducing them to nearby private clinics which are run by the hospitals.
At the Central Eye Hospital, Ta Xuan Duong, 26, from Hoang Hoa Tham Street gave VND400,000 ($19) to a broker so he wouldn't have to wait long for a check-up. He waited hours for his turn but the broker never returned.
Duong said: "At the hospital's main entrance on Ba Trieu Street, there are about 20 brokers, mainly women, while at the entrance to the underground parking based on Bui Thi Xuan, there are about 10."
Hospital authorities and the police have been unable to control the problem, and often blame one another.
Luong Hong Chau, deputy director of the National Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital said: "Brokers operate publicly in all hospitals. At our hospital, they have gone a step further by wearing hospital security guard uniforms and setting up areas to ply their illegal trade, but they're not on hospital grounds, so we can't do anything except limit the situation within the hospital itself."
"We have asked local and city police for help many times, but they say it is not their responsibility. Patients need to be vigilant. We've set CCTV cameras to try and tackle the problem," she explained.
Nguyen Xuan Hiep, deputy director of the Central Eye Hospital said, "If a patient is cheated by a broker, it is the hospital's responsibility. The hospital should try its best to limit the problem."
Colonel Tran Quoc Hai, head of Public Security in Nguyen Du Ward, said that in fact, if medical workers didn't join hands with the brokers, the situation would not happen, but it was a way for them to both make money from patients.
"The police don't have any guidance from the Government on how to fine brokers," Hai said.
Hiep said that Vietnamese people do not have a culture of queuing up to wait for their turn, and many patients were gullible so it was easy to trick them. A representative of Hang Bong Police said that the local police often implement campaigns to capture and limit hospital brokers who operate near the K Hospital, and issue severe fines. However, trying to chase brokers, especially those in uniform, was uncontrollable and chaotic, a bit like "bat coc bo dia" or "herding cats".
In my opinion, to seize the brokers is easy, but stopping the problem is very difficult. Authorities are yet to issue tighter sanctions to discourage them.
Applying software to the way check-ups are managed is one way hospitals could limit the chaos, but more importantly, hospitals need to stop their officials from colluding with brokers. — VNS