2017-12-28 08:54:56

A public hospital in eastern China has suspended one of its doctors after he boasted online of taking kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies.

On Tuesday, a post by a doctor showing off thousands of yuan he claimed to have received under the table went viral on microblog platform Weibo. Gong Tao, a 30-year-old doctor from the No. 2 Hospital of Nanchang in Jiangxi province, published the offending post in early September.

“I am so happy that I received a 5,500-yuan [$840] kickback today!” he wrote. “I can go shopping now. It’s so nice being a doctor!” Li also attached a photo of a person holding a wad of 100-yuan banknotes. By Tuesday, both the post and Gong’s account appeared to have been deleted.

Gong’s hospital responded the next day, saying in a statement that the post was a “mischievous” act, and that the photo of the money had been downloaded from the internet. An earlier version of the hospital’s statement said that Gong had pulled the stunt to vent his frustrations over a relationship. That version was revised, and the current version makes no reference to Gong’s personal life.

Gao Hong, who works in the hospital’s administration office, told Sixth Tone on Thursday that Gong has been suspended from work.

While some netizens ridiculed Gong as a fool for posting such a thoughtless message online, others viewed his prank as just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to public health corruption — a major contributing factor to the Chinese public’s general mistrust of doctors.

“Why did you suspend him? He’s just being honest,” reads one comment on Weibo. “Personally, I think he is sacrificing his own interests to expose the darkness and protect patients’ rights,” reads another upvoted comment.

In its statement, the hospital said it “maintains high-handed posture” in resolutely fighting corruption, including pharmaceutical companies giving doctors financial incentives to prescribe their products.

In an undercover video broadcast on state-owned China Central Television in December 2016, doctors at six big hospitals in Shanghai and central China’s Hunan province were found to have received kickbacks for overprescribing drugs — sometimes as much as 40 percent of the sale price. Zhang Qiang, a Shanghai-based doctor who quit his job at a public hospital and started his own private medical group, told Sixth Tone in a previous interview that some doctors make up to 2 million yuan a year, largely from dubious supplementary income.

In September, Shanghai’s health and family planning commission issued a regulation to reign in medical corruption by prohibiting payments from pharmaceutical companies. According to the regulation, hospitals should punish staff members found to be accepting kickbacks, and fire them if those kickbacks exceeded 5,000 yuan. The regulation further stipulates that if the staff member is a doctor, their license should be revoked. A similar regulation was released the same month in Jiangxi province, where Gong works.

In an interview with business and financial news outlet Jiemian.com, Xu Yücai, a health and family planning official in Shaanxi province, said that compared with graft crimes in other fields, corruption in public health runs deeper because most doctors have the authority to write prescriptions. But Xu believes there’s more that can be done beyond issuing regulations. Over 70 percent of doctors have salaries below 8,000 yuan a month — roughly the average monthly salary across all professions in Beijing — according a survey by online consulting firm iResearch.

“What [governments] are doing is telling doctors they shouldn’t be corrupt — but to solve the problem at its root, they should try to prevent medical professionals from even having to think about corruption,” said Xu, referring to the need for a more reasonable salary structure for medical professionals.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Two doctors operate while looking through a microscope at the No. 2 Hospital of Nanchang, Jiangxi province, July 7, 2016. Xu Ling/VCG)