BEIJING, Mar. 11, 2010 (Xinhua News Agency) -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao lit up public expectations for an improved medical system that charges less and offers easier access to services by encouraging development of private hospitals.
The high cost and poor availability of health services have been among the loudest complaints of the Chinese public, prompting the central government to launch healthcare reform, with the most difficult part being the reforming of government-run hospitals.
In a government work report to the annual parliament session last week, Wen promised to "support the use of non-government capital to run medical and healthcare institutions," a signal of creating a more open medical market that is expected to alleviate long-festering healthcare problems in the populous country. POOR AVAILABILITY
"Why it is so difficult for ordinary people to see a doctor?" asked Wang Faxue, who lost 2.5 kilograms in a week while accompanying his 70-year-old mother to hospitals for lung cancer treatments last month.
Wang, a farmer in Hebei Province in northern China, sought help from his relatives in Beijing for accommodations so he could catch the first bus in the morning to hospital.
"The registration hall is like an asylum as many people slept on the ground overnight to grab registration opportunities," he said, recalling the first visit to Peking Union Medical College Hospital (PUMCH), one of the most famous public hospitals in Beijing.
They got up before dawn but still stood at the end of long queues that extended from the hall to the yard of the hospital.
Wang had visited nearly all top public hospitals in the city and ended up paying 300 yuan (43.9 U.S. dollars) to a scalper, almost 20 times the normal registration fee, so they could see a renowned doctor in PUMCH.
The old woman died earlier this month.
Statistics of the Ministry of Health show China had about 14,000 public hospitals by November 2009, which accounts for about 90 percent of the overall medical service market.
Out-of-pocket patient costs for medical services increased by 200 times in China between 1978 and 2005, but the number of hospitals and medical staff grew by 76 percent and 75 percent respectively during the period, according to research by Zhou Qiren, a professor with Peking University.
Serious overcrowding at city-level public hospitals where the treatment is perceived as better is a reflection of the widening gap between supply and demand in China's medical market. HIGH COST
Wang Xianghua, a farmer from Hebei Province, always worried about getting sick some day.
"A cold will cost me at least 200 yuan if I see a doctor in hospital," said the 54-year-old man. He only earns some 6,000 yuan after a full year's hard work in the farmland.
Wang has witnessed some families in his village ruined by illness.