Friday, 18 April 2014

Hospital VIP suites: going, going, but not yet gone

by Michael Woodhead
Most major hospitals in China have a VIP suite or 'special treatment' section that offers hospital beds with 'first class service - these are typically single rooms with extra nursing cover, and their own TVs and fridges. Naturally, the cost is much more than for a typical hospital bed, and hospitals have been expanding their 'special treatment' sections to make more money. However, the National Health and Family Planning Commission has now decreed that things have gone too far and ruled that hospitals may only use 10% of their bed capacity for special treatment beds. The NHFPC says hospitals must focus on providing services that have a public benefit and not seek profits from expensive special services.
The Beijing Daily this week visited several hospitals to find out what the situation was with VIP areas of hospitals. They found that many hospitals have developed these areas in addition to the existing cadre (ganbu) sections that offer preferential treatment for government officials. Some VIP sections were developed initially to service foreigners such as consular and diplomatic staff, but have now become more focused on domestic patients.
According to the article, the official fee for a standard hospitals bed is 20 yuan per night, and for a government official section the fee is 100 yuan per night. However, the fee for a bed in the VIP section can cost 1000 yuan per day or more -  ten times the cost of the most expensive official bed. And yet there is no shortage of takers. In fact, the Beijing Daily found that at some hospitals there were waiting lists of up to 3 months for VIP beds.
Hospital managers said the beds were popular because people believed that they would get better treatment from the best doctors and face less inconvenience such as waiting times in hospital.  However, insiders said that some VIP sections were really just 'hardware' and that patients there received exactly the same treatment from the same staff as the standard hospital bed patients.
When asked how long it would take to scale back the VIP sections to the 10% limit, managers were cautious. Some said that hospital had invested substantial amounts of money in their VIP sections and were reluctant to give them up. Others said they relied on the VIP sections for hospital income, and would not be able to make major changes until the government reformed the hospital funding and staff salary arrangements for pubic hospitals. In theory the role of the VIP sections should be taken over by private hospitals and clinics that are now being encouraged to develop by the government. However, insiders said private hospitals were still in the early stages of development and they simply did not have the capacity to take on all the VIP bed clients that currently use public hospitals. Therefore they believed that the government would take a 'relaxed' approach to the scaling back of VIP sections and would not be 'rigid' in enforcement of the 10% limits.

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