China / Society

Beijing looks to cure its medical malaise

By Wang Xiaodong (China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-09 07:52

The capital's top legislative body is mulling proposals to improve its controversial 'dual-number' system for emergency health services, as Wang Xiaodong reports.

Beijing's emergency medical services will be subject to stricter regulation and greater scrutiny if a draft proposal currently being reviewed by the Beijing People's Congress becomes law.

The draft specifies a number of stringent, mandatory standards and procedures to eradicate profiteering, ensure that service providers dispatch ambulances immediately after receiving emergency calls and guarantee that patients are always either taken to the nearest possible hospital, or to a hospital specified by their family.

Operators will also be obliged to make their charges public, according to the draft, which proposes fines of as much as 100,000 yuan ($15,600) for violators.

If the proposal becomes law, service providers will come under the supervision of the Beijing health authorities, while relevant government departments will have the power to guide and manage their activities in cases of emergency or public safety.

The Beijing People's Congress, the capital's top legislative body, said the public's right to basic healthcare is "non-negotiable" and should be guaranteed by service providers under the supervision of the government, rather than through market forces and the profit motive.

End of an era?

The proposed changes could spell the end for the capital's unique, but controversial, "dual-number" medical emergency system, under which two separate operators compete to provide almost identical services.

The system has recently come under fire after one of the providers, the Beijing Red Cross Emergency Rescue Center, was accused of delaying a patient's treatment and providing an inconclusive and potentially life-threatening diagnosis.

On Nov 9, Zhang Yang, a journalist with the Liaoning Radio and Television Station in Shenyang, Liaoning province, developed an acute intestinal obstruction during a flight from Shenyang to Beijing.

The 35-year-old claims that a Red Cross ambulance transferred him to the organization's treatment center, rather than a better-equipped hospital nearby, and although he spent three hours in excruciating pain at the center, the doctors were unable to determine the cause of his problem.

Zhang claims the center only agreed to take him to the Peking University People's Hospital, one of the capital's leading medical facilities, after the intervention of a physician friend who insisted on the transfer.

By the time Zhang arrived at the hospital, though, his condition had deteriorated to the point where surgery was unavoidable.

The Red Cross center admitted that its ambulance had transferred Zhang to its treatment center against the advice of the medical practitioners at the Beijing Airport Hospital, but insisted that it was the best option, given severe congestion on the capital's major roads and the center's close proximity to the airport.

On Sunday, the center apologized to Zhang in a statement on its micro blog: "We failed to provide more hospital options when transferring the patient, and we did not pay enough care to the patient during treatment."

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