Tue, Aug 08, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Health changes face criticism

NEW STANDARDS Medical professionals said that proposed changes to standards for medical institutions are biased toward hospital owners

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Members of the Taiwan Health Reform Foundation and other medical associations gather outside the Department of Health yesterday to protest the department's move to revise medical standards. The amendment would make it possible to establish a hospital with fewer medical personnel than are currently required.

PHOTO: CHANG CHIA-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

Patient safety and the rights of hospital professionals should take priority in the Department of Health's move to amend the Establishment Standards for Medical Institutions (醫療機構設置標準), several medical associations said yesterday.

During a demonstration in front of the health department, the Taiwan Health Reform Foundation and more than 10 other medical associations accused the department of favoring hospital owners when amending the standards at the end of last month.

They added that the proposed amendment, if passed, would lower standards for the number of medical personnel required to set up a hospital.

Foundation chairwoman Chang Li-yun (張笠雲) said that through the amendment hospitals around the nation would be able to cut 40,605 jobs including pharmacists, nurses, medical examiners and radiation professionals, translating into savings of NT$21.5 billion (US$652 million) for the owners each year.

The proposed amendment would also permit hospitals to employ fewer social workers, dieticians, physical therapists and acoustic therapists, the foundation said.

According to the foundation, if the amendment were passed, the number of patients each nurse has to look after will increase to four, causing a "decline in health care quality."

The cutback in the number of pharmacists may lead to hasty work, with every prescription taking less than eight seconds to complete, the National Union of Pharmacist Associations said in the protest.

Mao Hui-fen (毛慧芬), president of the Taiwan Occupational Therapy Association, said that the diminution of occupational therapists may force hospitals to either discharge patients who are in need of the therapy, keep patients on a waiting list or give patients "group therapy."

"Ideally, there should be one therapist for every 30 inpatients," Mao said.

"But the new amendment obligates one therapist to be responsible for 300 inpatients," Mao said.

"If people remain silent at this moment and free the health department and hospital owners to cut back on manpower and costs, patient safety and the quality of health care will be seriously impacted," Chang said.

Saying that the health department was "timid and neglecting its duty [as the gatekeeper for public health]," the reform foundation demanded that it propose a white paper to ensure patient safety and hospital employees' working rights as the core value of the amendment.

Responding to the demonstration, Vice Minister of the Department of Health Chen Tsai-ching (陳再晉) said that the department's stance on protecting patient safety and promoting quality medical treatment remained unchanged.

He said that in the new amendment the department had adopted different standards to govern the employment of medical professionals for different levels of medical institutions.

Chou Tao-chun (周道君), section chief of the health department's Medical Affairs Bureau, said that hospitals were required to station one nurse for every four hospitalized patients under the new proposal, which was the same as the existing standard.

The ratios in standards for hiring pharmacists, medical examiners and radiation professionals in relation to inpatient numbers will all be reduced in the new amendment, Chou said.

The Establishment Standards for Medical Institutions serve as the most basic requirements for hospitals.

Any hospital that fails to meet the standards faces a fine of up to NT$50,000 or closure, according to the Medical Treatment Law (醫療法).

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