by Tran Quynh Hoa
HA NOI — From a far corner of the white-walled Emergency Ward that has a pungent odour of disinfectant, Vu Thi Ly intently watches the "Ha Noi Doctor" – as he is affectionately known.
Dr Nguyen Anh Tuan (third right) from Ha Noi's Bach Mai Hospital shows doctors at Tuyen Quang General Hospital in the northeastern highlands province how to do a catheterisation. — VNS Photo Doan Tung
"We are so lucky to have him here now," said the local woman, who was seated beside her 85-year-old mother at Tuyen Quang General Hospital.
"Whenever there are talented doctors around, we feel secure," she says, casting an admiring glance at the Ha Noi Doctor.
Ly's mother is now in a stable condition a day after being admitted with a brain injury.
The Ha Noi Doctor, whose name is Nguyen Anh Tuan, is based at the country's leading Bach Mai hospital. He has spent two months of his three-month rotation spell at Tuyen Quang General Hospital in the northeastern highlands province, some 170km from Ha Noi.
Tuan, who studied in Australia and the US, has helped train provincial doctors in how to deal with severe lung disease, brain haemorrhages, pesticide poisoning and tetanus, among other things.
Tuyen Quang General Hospital's Emergency Ward head, also called Nguyen Anh Tuan, said he felt indebted to Tuan for the help he had given local medical staff.
"We used to resort to transferring critical cases to hospitals in Ha Noi but now we are confident in our own abilities," he said.
The "Ha Noi Doctor" is among 50 health workers from eight central medical centres who have been sent to help out at Tuyen Quang Hospital since the beginning of 2009.
At a meeting organised in Ha Noi yesterday, the Health Ministry reported that nearly 9,000 medical staff nationwide had worked at local healthcare centres since the ministry's rotation programme was launched three years ago.
Some 60,000 grassroots health workers have been trained in 4,200 advanced medical techniques by senior doctors under the rotation scheme, which is widely known as "Project 1816".
"Project 1816 has directly benefited 4.5 million patients and saved the lives of lots of people who might have died on the way to central hospitals," said Luong Ngoc Khue, head of the Medical Services Administration Department.
The programme was praised by Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan, who said: "These activities have done an excellent job given that they receive only about VND35 billion [US$1.7 million] from the State a year."
Meanwhile, Pham Trong Thuat, head of Tuyen Quang Hospital's Obstetrics Ward, said Project 1816 had brought practical and significant benefits.
Doctors from the National Obstetrics Hospital sent to his ward under Project 1816 have trained both him and his staff in the latest medical techniques, such as uterus endoscopy.
Meanwhile, Bach Mai Hospital's Dr Tuan said he had been able to train dozens of local doctors who had been spared the time and expense of having to send their staff to Ha Noi.
The number of cases transferred from local to central hospitals has been cut by about 30 per cent since the rotation scheme began, according to the Health Ministry.
Khue said: "This has considerably eased the overloading that leading medical centres used to suffer."
Nguyen Thi Thuy, 40, also from Tuyen Quang Province, said she could have had her rectal disability treated at her local hospital if staff there had been suitably trained.
"Doctors said they couldn't deal with my case and that I had to go to Ha Noi's Viet Duc Hospital. It cost me a small fortune. It would have been much more convenient and less costly if the operation had been conducted here," she said.
According to the Health Ministry, four-fifths of healthcare demand is at provincial and district medical centres, which lacked suitably trained staff.
Dao Thi Ngoc Lan, Health Department director in the northern mountainous province of Yen Bai, said: "Project 1816 is of great importance and gives the local people what they are looking for."
Grassroots hospitals, particularly in remote areas, say it is vital the programme is extended.
However, Trinh Hong Son, deputy director of Viet Duc Hospital, said he could little afford to spare staff for the programme.
"The time period needs to be more flexible. Our doctors' expertise is too specific. They have only a few patients that need their services at the grassroots level whereas hundreds of patients need them each day in a large central hospital," he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Nguyen Thi Lan Anh, from the National Obstetrics Hospital, said doctors needed more than three months to learn more complicated medical techniques.
"So online and distance training would be much better for training institutions in the long run," Anh said.
However, as long as there is a shortage of trained medical personnel at the local level and there exists a regional disparity in doctors' income, there will be a need for the rotation programme.
Meanwhile, Dr Tuan said the programme had been rewarding and successful.
"I'm happy with what I've done!" he said smiling. — VNS