Hospital fees spark debate
by Thu Trang
HA NOI (VNS)— Hailed by health officials as the catalyst for improved medical services, it seems August's health fees increase hasn't proved popular with everyone, after a number of patients complained about the lack of quality care.
|Patients register for treatment at Bach Mai General Hospital. New hospital fees are expected to improve the quality of healthcare services in hospitals nationwide. — VNA/VNS Photo Bich Ngoc
The new fees were seen as necessary to bring treatment costs in line with inflation, as the previous fees had not been updated since being introduced in 1995.
The Ministry of Health has approved the new fees for 22 central hospitals, while the people's councils of 48 cities and provinces have also approved the fees for local hospitals.
Brought in nationwide at the beginning of August, the controversial fees increase has been warmly welcomed by health professionals.
"The rise brings a lot of benefits, not only for residents and medical workers but also for society," said Luong Ngoc Khue, director of the Ministry of Health's Department of Medical Service Administration.
"The increase ensures a better income for medical workers, enabling them to provide better services to patients. Hospitals will now have more funds to invest in modern machines and technology, further enhancing patient care.
"Moreover, the increased hospital fees will make residents more aware of the value of social insurance, encouraging more of the population to take out health insurance," he added.
While people like Khue claim the new fees provide better care, others claim the fact that fewer people are now prepared to seek treatment is also an advantage.
Le Van Phuc, head of the Health Insurance Division under the Viet Nam Social Insurance's Health Insurance Policy Department, said that since the new hospital fees were applied two months ago, overcrowding has been reduced.
He cited statistics noting that in provincial hospitals, patients used to have a longer wait for a health check. On average, each doctor would examine between 90-100 patients per day, whereas since the fees increase, doctors are only having to examine between 50-70.
Phuc added that the cash injection had enabled hospitals to re-invest in equipment. He claimed the Bach Mai Hospital had spent VND20 billion (US$952,380) on repairing its Examination Ward, a further VND30 billion ($1.4 million) on equipment upgrades and had also doubled the number of health check rooms from 30 to 60.
Phuc also said the K Hospital, one of the most overcrowded in the country, planned to have hundreds more sick beds in place by the end of the year.
But despite the claims of improved services and shorter wait times, some patients remain unconvinced.
Nguyen Thu Ha, from Ha Noi, had brought her mother to the K Hospital for a breast fibroma check and was standing patiently in the waiting room. The room was crammed with dozens of patients and their relatives, while more than half are forced to stand as there aren't enough chairs.
Sitting next to Ha, her mother quickly became tired by the uncomfortable conditions and sweat ran freely down her face.
Ha said that last week she had to wait from 7am until 4pm to complete a full health check and receive the test results.
"Luckily we are from Ha Noi and we can receive ambulatory care. I feel sorry for those coming from other provinces who have to suffer this crush every day," she said.
Tran Thang, from the central province of Nghe An, told how her son's routine examination at the National Paediatrics Hospital only took three minutes, but despite this, the doctor moaned and grumbled throughout.
"They say that if doctors' income is improved, their attitude will be better," Thang said.
But it's not the doctors' fault according to deputy chairwoman of the Viet Nam Nurse Association Nguyen Bich Luu, herself a former nurse, who pointed out how stressful the roles of health staff can be.
"Often during our late shifts we didn't even have time to eat dinner because patients needing emergency care flocked to the hospital. If you were us, how could you always stay happy and smiley?" she said.
Nguyen Kim Phuong, a health financing expert of the World Health Organisation said the Ministry of Health should set up a long-term project to appraise hospital services year by year.
The project should check service quality annually, which would allow firm conclusions to be drawn on the rate of change, she said. — VNS