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China Times: Warnings of a collapsing medical care system

2012/07/14 20:56:11

Recent media reports on the nation's medical care system have aroused great concern.

First came high-profile protests by nurses in April over harsh working conditions and long working hours without reasonable overtime pay, which has resulted in widespread resignations and serious shortages of nurses in hospitals.

The protests only came to an end after the Department of Health agreed to appropriate NT$2 billion to fund overtime pay and improve the working conditions among medical personnel.

Then there was a report, which sparked considerable debate, about a doctor at prestigious National Taiwan University Hospital who decided to give up becoming a surgeon after completing his training.

The doctor said he decided to pursue an easier and more lucrative cosmetic surgery job so that he would have more time with his family.

Talk of medical school students staying away from internal and surgical medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology has been going on for some time.

The aversion to these major departments in the medical field is because they usually have heavy workloads and leave doctors highly vulnerable to malpractice suits.

The hollowing-out phenomenon has recently spread to emergency wards, with staffing in many emergency wards only half of what is required.

There are a number of factors behind these negative trends in the medical system: insufficient investment in medical care, unfair health insurance reimbursements, the excessive commercialization of hospitals, business taking precedence over medical ethics, and the abuse of valuable medical resources.

Taiwan's spending on medical care currently stands at 6 percent of GDP, lower than all but one of the original 20 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

Taiwan's much-touted health insurance system has been in place for 15 years, but it has also shown many problems along the way, and the government should address them quickly so that people will not suffer in the end. (Editorial abstract -- July 14, 2012)

(By Lilian Wu)