Doctors are falsely claiming people have severe mental health problems in order to meet quotas and avoid being penalized by their bosses.
Community doctors in Zhengzhou, capital of central Henan Province, must find two people with severe mental health problems out of every 1,000 residents, Southern Metropolis Daily reported yesterday.
If they fail to register enough patients, doctors are deducted marks in health authority assessments and placed under supervision.
Doctors at community centers try many approaches to meet the quota — including questioning every family in their patch and offering free consultation.
But some community doctors top up numbers by including people with less serious mental health issues and conditions such as cerebral palsy and autism, reported the newspaper.
Doctor Ma Peixin, from Beilin Road community, admitted including a former cabin crew member who suffered memory problems after falling on an aircraft.
"In order to register as many patients as we can, we finally counted her," Ma said.
Doctors say their task is made difficult in door-to-door visits as family members of people with mental illness may feel their privacy is being infringed.
Some refuse to give details as their ill relatives are not promised any further treatment.
Also, some residents who voluntarily come for consultations receive little useful help, the paper reported.
The 16 districts and counties in Zhengzhou were told to find 8,324 people with severely mental health problems.
However, some doctors refuse to inflate figures.
Huang Linlin, a health worker of Linke community, said they were informed to find 71 patients. But medical staff in Linke recorded just 12 names.
And doctor Shi Xiaoqin from Fengchan Road community said she had 20 patients registered, despite being told to find 60.
Shi says that genuine data is much more important than her assessment scores.
An official from Zhengzhou Health Bureau said the target was based on a notice issued by the old Ministry of Health in 2012. The former ministry, now replaced by the National Health and Family Planning Commission, set the figure to urge better care and management for people with mental illness.
While well-intentioned, a strict target is ridiculous, law expert Huang Xuetao said.
Emphasis should instead be placed on helping patients to recover, added Huang.