Officials in medical fields being investigated, mirroring heighten anti-graft move
Published: Apr 28, 2024 07:25 PM
rule of law (file photo) Photo: VCG

rule of law (file photo) Photo: VCG

In recent months, a number of officials in China's medical fields have been investigated or disciplined, with many of them having previously or currently held important positions. 

Experts said on Sunday that the recent anti-corruption moves indicate that anti-corruption efforts are deepening and that pressure on anti-corruption efforts is still being exerted in the medical field.

According to the Guangdong Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection and Supervision on Friday, Duan Yufei, former Party secretary and director of the Guangdong Provincial Health Commission is currently undergoing disciplinary review and investigation for suspicion of serious violations of discipline and law. 

Observers suggested that this may indicate that the anti-corruption efforts in the medical field are increasingly targeting the entire chain, not only focusing on healthcare institution staff, but also on "the key few" closer to the upstream of the industry, including medical enterprises, regulatory departments, and medical universities. 

According to incomplete statistics, since March, at least 33 "key few" figures have been investigated or disciplined, including several directors of top-tier hospitals, university management, and top officials in local medical and health systems. 

Over the past week, Liu Zilin, former Party secretary and director of the Anhui Provincial Food and Drug Administration, Zhang Yongyu, Party secretary and executive vice president of the Fujian Family Planning Association, and Hu Liu, Party secretary of the People's Hospital of Xinyu, are undergoing disciplinary review and supervision investigation.

Yang Xiaoming, the former chief engineer and chief scientist at China National Biotec Group under Chinese state-owned Sinopharm, has been dismissed from his position as a National People's Congress delegate due to suspected serious violations of discipline and law. 

According to Lianhe Zaobao, Yang has been linked to corruption in pharmaceuticals and issues related to vaccine research and development. 

Recently, after the president of a medical university in Jiangxi Province was investigated, a hospital where he had served as dean immediately held a meeting to ask staff to voluntarily disclose any financial transactions which involved the former fallen president, according to media reports. 

In recent months, Shanghai, Chongqing, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and other regions have introduced detailed implementation rules for the "Nine Codes of Conduct for Medical Institution Staff's Honest and Professional Conduct," which were jointly issued by the National Health Commission and two other ministries in 2021. 

These regional rules have expanded and refined the national guidelines, showing certain local differences. Several informed sources revealed that the parts of these rules that have been particularly detailed often indicate more serious issues in the current anti-corruption campaign in the medical field.

The "bribery crime" refers to the crime committed by state personnel who use their official positions to solicit or illegally accept property from others in order to seek benefits for others.

According to the size of a bribe, sentences for bribery crimes are generally divided into three categories - the first category is less than three years, the second category is three to 10 years, and the third category is over 10 years. 

Although the current medical anti-corruption campaign seems to have a strong momentum, the judgments of the parties involved did not deviate too much from the expectations of Zhou Hao, a lawyer based in Beijing specialized in criminal defense. "They are basically within the legal framework, and the penalties did not show an unusually severe trend."

The anti-corruption efforts in the medical field are not just about hospitals or doctors, Zhuang Deshui, a deputy director of the Research Center for Government Integrity-Building at Peking University, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

"In the past, it was commonly understood that anti-corruption in the medical field only referred to corruption by doctors. Now, this understanding has been expanded, and corruption in the medical field involves pharmaceutical companies, medical management departments, approval departments, and so on," Zhuang noted. 

Fees for events or lectures have always been a highly scrutinized area in the anti-corruption efforts in the medical field. On April 7, the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission issued the "Implementation Rules of the Nine Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct of Medical Institution Staff in Shanghai." Among them, regulations regarding lecture fees were stipulated - it is strictly prohibited to accept benefits through fabricated academic lecture reasons or fees that clearly exceed the lecture fee standards recommended by the industry association. 

"Four or five years ago, fabricating lectures was quite common," Health Insight, a healthcare think tank quoted a pharmaceutical representative. Starting two or three years ago, some multinational pharmaceutical companies began to strictly control lecture fee expenditures. 

Now, companies paying lecture fees require e-invoices, video recordings for online meetings, photos for offline meetings, and sharing time must exceed 20 minutes. After the meeting, a third-party team will also conduct follow-ups. 

After the discussion on lecture fees in the summer of 2023, China issued corresponding regulations. The document requires that medical personnel must obtain hospital approvals before issuing academic lectures, they must not directly accept lecture fees from pharmaceutical companies, and the organizers and invitees of academic conferences must be state organs, institutions, medical and health institutions, research institutes, universities, and social organizations. This may mean that in the future, medical personnel will have to go through academic societies and associations to give academic lectures.

Eradicating corruption in the medical field cannot be achieved overnight, and it has gradually become an industry consensus, because it needs to reshape the understanding of all practitioners in the industry chain on the distribution of benefits. The key to medical anti-corruption efforts is not only to reverse false perceptions, but also to accurately identify the corrupt elements in the medical field, experts said.

This is a positive trend, forming a comprehensive anti-corruption system that covers the entire chain, Zhuang said. "Only in this way can we address the root causes of this corrupt issue," he said.