Healthcare

Not a well institution

Famed Hunan hospital hits headlines for procurement scam

It wasn’t just skin being grafted...

Two different approaches to complaining about the ever-present problem of graft surfaced last week.

For 60 year-old Shandong villager Zhang Xiufang, the goal was a bit of local publicity, according to WantChinaTimes.

So she engraved the names of 65 corrupt local bureaucrats on a pair of stone tablets and put them up outside her house. It didn’t end well for Mrs Zhang, as the village head soon arrived and beat her up.

Back on the national stage, President Hu Jintao also resorted to high-profile tactics for the same topic. “Corruption will cost the Party the support and trust of the people,” he warned, during a speech marking the 90th anniversary of China’s Communist Party last week.

No beating up of Mr Hu, of course. But there’s no doubt that the leadership is both embarrassed and exasperated by the litany of corruption cases that continue to make headlines. And now the fall of what was once one of China’s most prestigious hospitals can be added to the list.

Hunan’s Xiangya Hospital was founded by Yale University missionaries in 1906, and grew into one of the most advanced facilities in the country, overseeing the birth of Mao’s eldest son in 1922, and surviving both civil war and Japanese invasion.

But Nanfang Daily reports that the hospital’s reputation is now in tatters, having been caught up in a “whirlpool of corruption”.

The rot began in 1995, when Tian Yongquan was appointed president of the hospital. The rest of the story is sadly predictable, says New Century Weekly. Tian’s younger brother, a retired shipbuilder called Tian Qiangquan, then set up a series of pharmaceutical firms to sell drugs and medical equipment to Xiangya. This quasi-monopoly on procurement lasted for 15 years and was lucrative. New Century puts the hospital’s annual purchases at around $170 million.

The Tian family empire spread further when the older brother was made vice president of Central South University (a part of the Xiangya medical facility) and was given responsibility for three affiliated hospitals.

Again, the tender-based procurement system proved easy to subvert, with the Tian family winning most of the bids, writes the magazine.

The culture of corruption didn’t stop at procurement. Patients at Xiangya were reportedly expected to pay extra fees in order to receive a medical exam or see an expert for a consultation. Xiangya slid further down the rankings of the nation’s hospitals, despite repeated complaints from staff and a 2007 reprimand by the Ministry of Health.

In the end, the Xiangya case came to wider public attention almost by accident. The province’s Commission for Discipline Inspection arrested the senior staff at another facility (Xiangxi People’s Hospital) and discovered that Tian Qiangquan had paid them off too.

Hunan’s CDI team spent the next four months tailing Tian before arresting hundreds of suppliers and hospital staff. The head of the hospital’s equipment department, the pharmacy director and a senior nurse have so far been implicated in the scheme. Tian Qiangquan himself is expected to appear in court soon.

Will this see the hospital begin to recuperate? That’s far from clear. Strangely, the elder Tian brother remains in his post at Central South University. “A few large companies still monopolise nearly half of the hospital’s pharmaceutical purchases,” explains New Century. “Several of Tian Qiangquan’s affiliates are still delivering drugs and equipment to Xiangya Hospital.”

The magazine worries the charges against Tian will be reduced to avoid implicating senior local officials as the net widens.

Xiangya’s sorry tale is evidence that the cancer of corruption extends far in China, and even when exposed is hard to root out.


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