by Thu Trang
In a training course on work ethics for medical workers last month, Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien put forth the idea that it would be appropriate for doctors to receive money from patients after their successful treatment as a thank-you gift.
The idea is one of several measures to reduce bribery in hospitals, where giving envelopes has become a common practice. The ministry has banned patients from offering doctors money before or during treatment.
The public has been widely informed of various ideas and measures applied by the ministry to put an end to the problem.
When visiting a hospital, one notices instructions posted on the doors and walls of various wards calling for patients and medical workers to eradicate bribery: "Medical workers banned from receiving presents from patients", "If patients give money to medical workers, they will not be served".
Last year, the five biggest hospitals in the capital city were involved in the "Say no to envelopes" campaign.
In November last year, Health Minister Tien said in a National Assembly meeting that residents could send her photos of doctors receiving bribes.
However, these measures have not eliminated the problem.
About 70 per cent of medical workers were used to receiving presents from patients, according to a study conducted by Ha Noi Medical University in five hospitals in the city nearly a year ago.
And 31 per cent of citizens considered paying a bribe crucial for receiving adequate medical care, revealed a 2011 nation-wide survey by the United Nations Development Programme in Viet Nam.
Patients and their families often argue that giving doctors money before the treatment period has become a general rule and they would not feel secure if they did not give doctors some money beforehand.
As a mother of two children who see doctors regularly, I appreciate any initiatives offered by the authorities to deal with the problem.
But I also doubt whether the measures they have put in place are more effective than the useless initiatives they have already implemented.
I am afraid the current plan will create more work for the ministry, as officials will have to determine whether doctors received the money before or after treatment.
Many others share the same concern.
Nguyen Hai Ha, a resident of Ha Noi's Dong Da District, said that giving envelopes – either before or after the treatment period –should be avoided at all costs.
"If patients want to give doctors a present, they can buy confectionery or fruit. That's better than giving them money. That makes medical care like buying goods in the market," said Ha. "Even under the new policy, bribery will be allowed tacitly and the health sector's goal of people saying no to envelopes will be difficult to enforce."
Under the new plan, she pointed out, a patient's relatives could meet doctors right after the patient was hospitalised to promise an envelope later. Doctors could wait for such a promise to decide how carefully to work.
Doctor Nguyen Thanh Van, head of the National Hospital of Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases' Paediatrics Ward, agreed that the new idea could make the issue more complicated, as patients would find different ways to give bribes – such as by visiting doctors' houses.
In her view, change could only come from better education. If the whole society was spotless, bribery would not be seen in hospitals and the Ministry of Health would not have to waste its time monitoring doctors.
When it was unveiled at the first-ever ethics workshop by the health ministry, the idea was welcomed by listeners.
But how will it be carried out? We can only wait and see.
This situation highlights the importance of ethical education. Only after doctors and nurses are well aware of their full ethical responsibilities will bribery be eliminated from hospitals.
And even more importantly, why should patients have to thank doctors, in whatever form, since they already pay for treatment? That fact should be made clear to each patient and doctor. — VNS