by MICHAEL WOODHEAD
Dr Qiu Jianqin is a plastic surgeon turned cosmetic surgeon from Fujian province who has a few unkind things to say about Putian hospitals. In an ‘exposure’ aired in the Chinese media this week, Dr Qiu talks of his four years working in a Xiamen hospital run by the Putian network – and portrays it as rife with corrupt practices, overcharging, health insurance fraud and substandard clinical practices.
Before I describe these in more detail I should point out that Dr Qiu may well be an aggrieved ex-employee because he has been sacked by the hospital over claims that he was treating patients privately, in an unauthorised way, in his own premises. Dr Qiu and the hospital are now in litigation over unpaid wages, broken contracts etc etc.
The expose comes from the Southern Weekend – based in Guangzhou, which has a reputation for relatively bold investigative journalism.
Dr Qiu says he made the move to the Xiamen New Century hospital in 2011 after becoming burnt out and disillusioned working in the public hospital system. Despite being a senior plastic surgeon, (he is a representative of the Chinese Medical Association Standing Committee of Fujian plastic and cosmetic branch) Dr Qiu says his workload was excessive and the rewards small. The market reforms in the public sector meant that many burns units became more oriented towards lucrative cosmetic surgery, and gave staff commissions and quotas to generate more income for the hospital. And yet at the same time, the hospital still had an iron rice bowl mentality in which they were overstaffed by bureaucrats, says Dr Qiu. The last straw was when his assistant surgeon left over low pay, and Dr Qiu allowed himself to be lured by the promise of the New Century Hospital. He was personally invited by the manager, Su Qincan, who he said spouted a lot of hype but promised a lot of benefits and good facilities.
Dr Qiu joined the New Century Hospital along with his wife, a senior nurse, but was disappointed to find that the private facility was lacking in many basic facilities such as as resuscitation equipment that are standard in public hospitals. He wasn’t aware initially that it was part of the Putian network, and he had a poor impression of that group. His negative impressions were confirmed when he found that the hospital was now what it purported to be. While claiming to have many different departments, it actually concentrated only on four areas: cosmetic medicine, STDs, obstetrics and dentistry. The other departments – required by health department regulations were ‘Potemkin villages’ – they were there in name only and were only staffed when health department inspectors visited, at which time they ‘borrowed’ clinical staff from sister hospitals. The New Century even paid 10,000-30,000 RMB to ‘rent’ the name plaques of several senior doctors, to make it appear as if they had many eminent consultant physicians and surgeons.
Dr Qiu found that the doctors and managers working at the hospital were unscrupulous profiteers. They would lure in patients, overdiagnose and overtreat their illnesses. In the cosmetic filed, a simple skin fold operation that would typically cost 50 RMB in a public hospital was being billed at 1000 RMB at New Century. If patients complained about costs or about botched procedures the hospital’s policy was to engage them with obstructive and expensive legal actions.
The hospital also engaged in routine health insurance fraud – doing extensive cosmetic work such as liposuction and claiming it as appendix removal was one common example. The hospital accountants became skilled at ‘swiping’ the health insurance cards of patients, using all their family credit balance on the card even if just one person was being treated at the hospital.
Dr Qiu said this practice was so widespread that the local health authorities must have known but they were also bribed by the hospital. The hospital managers had a well organised system of what Dr Qiu termed “Feeding Putian Cake” – taking officials out to dinner on a monthly basis and allowing them to win ‘prizes’ of department store spending vouchers worth 1000RMB.
Dr Qiu said that at first he believed this widespread corruption and malpractice was a passing phases as part of the transition to a market-based healthcare system – and he believed he could help improve standards and bring change from within. However, after a couple of years he realised things were getting worse, not better and he started to look for ways out of his five year contract. He was working on commission and described it as being “like forced prostitute”
His managers told his he could not leave and warned him that he would not be able to work anywhere else because his name would be blacklisted if he broke his contract. Things came to a head in 2015 when Dr Qiu kept making complaints and demands for improvements in the hospital. He was told he had been fired – along with his wife. The given reason for his sacking was that he was ‘sneaking work home’ – seeing patients privately without payment through the hospital. Dr Qiu disputes this. And now he has entered into a litigation with the Putian hospital and its manager Su over unpaid wages and the refusal to hand over his documents and medical licence.