China tells hospitals not to deny emergency care to the poor

BEIJING - China's hospitals must not turn away injured people who need emergency care, the country's National Health and Family Planning Commission said on Tuesday, as the government tries to tackle a persistent problem in its sprawling healthcare sector.

Providing affordable, accessible healthcare is one of the key platforms of President Xi Jinping's government. But hospitals are often underfunded and overcrowded, and access to care remains a pervasive problem for the poor.

Hospitals and first-aid teams must not refuse or delay emergency care because patients are unable to pay or their identity is in question, the panel said in its statement.

The new rules will help eradicate the social problem of"waiting for money before saving lives", it added.

Violators of the rules in hospitals will face investigation, it said, directing local authorities to set up first-aid funds.

The Chinese government has repeatedly told hospitals not to turn away emergency cases, and state media has detailed grisly accounts of people being left maimed or dying because hospitals refused emergency treatment over worries about funds.

Health care in China is not free but is supposed to be very cheap. However, many doctors and nurses are poorly paid and supplement their salaries with bribes, meaning treatment is often out of reach of the poor, especially in rural areas.

Concerns over corruption fuel suspicion that staff are keener to make money by prescribing unnecessary drugs and treatment than tending the sick, which has led to patients attacking staff.

A doctor just completing medical school in Beijing earns about 3,000 yuan (S$600) a month including bonuses - roughly the same as a taxi driver.