Shanghainese poet, novelist and translator Qiu Xiaolong is an astute commentator on modern China. Among his many books is the detective tale When Red is Black. In the novel Qiu examines not only the seismic shifts occurring in Shanghai society, but also touches on the shortcomings of China’s healthcare system as it moves into the ‘capitalist’ era.
“There should be a touch of humanity in the management of a hospital,” Qiu comments.
Unfortunately, humanity often seems to be in short supply when the medical profession is concerned.
As reported in our special section in WiC128, much has improved in Chinese hospitals since the most recent round of healthcare reform began. But much still remains to be done too. And it is clear that the public is still far from convinced that the changes are bearing fruit.
The evidence: doctors are still being murdered and the public still mistrusts medical professionals.
On the evening of March 23, a few hours after a disgruntled patient had stabbed a young doctor to death and injured two others in the northern city of Harbin, the People’s Daily asked netizens how they felt about his actions
Respondents were asked to choose from seven emotions – represented by emoticons – that ranged from happy through sad to angry.
Incredibly, of the 6,000 or so responses, over 4,000 seemed to show support for the attack, i.e they pushed the button expressing a ‘happy’ view of the event.
‘Anger’ proved the second-most popular answer, but it only gathered 800 votes.
Within hours the controversial poll was taken down and many more netizens then came out in condemnation of the murder.
Yet the fact remains that the Chinese public still seems to feel a great deal of resentment towards the healthcare system and the people who staff it.
Although the government stopped publishing figures for attacks on doctors in 2006 – presumably because the numbers were so high – the magazine Outlook Weekly reported last year that more than 17,000 violent incidents took place in hospitals in 2010.
The People’s Daily said the attacker in most recent case in Harbin, an 18 year-old from Inner Mongolia, was enraged after doctors at Harbin University Hospital told him they could not treat his back condition until he had been cured of tuberculosis at another establishment.
The patient apparently felt they were refusing him help and he returned a few days later with a fruit knife, killing his doctor.
A few days earlier a man in Xi’an also went berserk in a hospital, injuring 9 people, the China Youth Daily reported.
That makes China one of the rare examples of a country where it is riskier to be a doctor than a soldier. That’s a sick statistic.
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