Patients overcrowd hospitals as flu outbreak sweeps China

By Hu Yuwei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/7 17:33:40

A mass outbreak of Influenza B recently swept Beijing in what is being viewed by many media outlets as an incident "more ferocious than SARS." In many of the capital's major hospitals, large groups of sick patients must spend the night in hallways, some sitting on the floor, waiting for treatment. 

According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China, the entire country is now entering the peak winter flu season. The number of emergency flu cases has reached three-year highs, while regular cases are at peak levels and still on the rise.

As the Global Times observed three hospitals over a single winter's night, incalculable faces passed in front of our camera lens. These faces went from concerned to scared to simply tired as they grew increasingly worried about the consequences of having to wait so long for treatment.

In the Capital Institute of Pediatrics, adults and children with the flu had to endure an almost entire night of excruciating waiting just to see a doctor. 

In addition to having to deal with a flu outbreak, the capital's hospitals must also find space for patients from small cities and rural Chinese villages who have come to receive treatment of other diseases. For these people, high-quality medical services are nearly impossible to find in their hometowns. This is not only the result of a shortage of hospitals and other medical facilities, but also due to the lack of well-trained doctors at the local level. In the Chinese mainland, some 80 percent of premium medical resources are concentrated in big cities.

In the emergency center at one of China's best hospitals, Peking Union Medical College Hospital (PUMCH), 34-year-old Zhang Miao lay on the floor wrapped up in a quilted jacket and with her necessaries scattered around: slippers, a thermos flask and a bowl of instant noodles.

Zhang had been camping out in the corridor for three nights. Although she has spent around 18,000 yuan ($2,771) for treatment, she said she feels that it has been worth it since"the medical facilities in my village are unacceptably abysmal."

The government, amid continuous public complaints over the soaring cost of medical services and difficulty of registration, has promised that greater effort will be made to provide national comprehensive medical services through further reforms.

At the end of 2016, 22 Beijing tertiary-level hospitals launched online registration systems for non-emergency patients. These diversified appointment registration systems are expected to improve hospital efficiency and help get rid of appointment scalpers.

However, not all patients are happy with recent reforms. Sun Jiacheng, 65, a hepatitis patient visiting PUMCH, said that he prefers to register for appointments the traditional way - waiting in line.

"For some elderly people like myself who suffer from chronic diseases, I would rather line up here for a few hours than put up with the trouble of dealing with a digital platform," said Sun.

Patients line up in the middle of the night for appointments the following morning at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital (PUMCH). Photo: Li Hao/GT

Parents of young kids line up for appointments to see a doctor the following day. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Children and their parents try to get some sleep at a Beijing hospital. Photo: Li Hao/GT

An elderly man feeds his grandson some instant noodles. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Patients sleep on mats placed on the floor at PUMCH. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Newspaper headline: The long night

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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