Rural areas should be the focus of ongoing nationwide medical reform, and medical resources in rural areas should be more accessible, a political advisor suggested.
He Wei, a CPPCC (Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body) member from Liaoning Province, spoke with Beijing Review at the opening ceremony of the Third Session of the 11th National Committee of the CPPCC in Beijing on March 3.
"I think the most fundamental problem that needs to be resolved at the moment is medical services for farmers, rather than the reform in government-run hospitals," said He, who is in charge of the He College of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at Shenyang Medical College and the He Eye Hospital Shenyang.
"The reform in government-run hospitals is important, but I think overall medical reform should more fully embrace its responsibility to serve the public as well as improve the quality of medical workers in rural areas," he said. "The medical reform must not deviate from its focus."
According to He, the uneven distribution of medical resources has become increasingly prominent across the country as big hospitals in big cities have been crowded with patients, leaving doctors in small local hospitals and rural clinics with nothing to do.
In April 2009, the Central Government unveiled its Guidelines on Deepening the Reform of the Health Care System, which kicked off a much-anticipated program to ensure fair and affordable health services for China's 1.3 billion citizens.
The government will spend more than 850 billion yuan ($124 billion) by 2011 to provide universal medical services to all residents, Health Minister Chen Zhu said.
The guidelines identified public hospitals as the dominant providers of health services, and gave priority to the development of local hospitals and clinics in cities and rural areas, as Chen said the rural system "has played a prominent role in alleviating the economic burden of rural residents."
Authorities have pledged to build 2,000 county hospitals and 5,000 township clinics in rural areas by 2011, extending medical services and making them more affordable.
Moreover, the Central Government recently allocated 37.2 billion yuan ($5.45 billion) to subsidize nationwide medical reform.
Specifically, 22 billion yuan ($3.22 billion) will be used to subsidize a new type of rural cooperative medical care system; 3.7 billion yuan ($541 million) to subsidize basic medical insurance for urban residents; 3.2 billion yuan ($468 million) for urban and rural medicaid; and 8.3 billion yuan ($1.21 billion) for basic public health services.
By 2011, every health clinic in townships must have at least one approved doctor. Some 360,000 training spots will be available to township medical workers and another 13.7 million training spots will be allocated for healthcare workers in villages within three years.
By 2020, China will have a basic health care system that provides "safe, effective, convenient and affordable" services to urban and rural residents, Chen said.
"Therefore, the medical reform should put its emphasis on rural areas," He said. "Otherwise, the last scenario we'd like to see would be small local hospitals and rural clinics getting the cold shoulder from patients despite having sufficient funds and improved hardware."
More than 2,000 CPPCC National Committee members from across the country will discuss major issues concerning the nation's development during the annual meeting scheduled to conclude on March 13.