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Taxi Drivers Paid to Deliver Patients in Shanghai
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It is common for restaurants to pay commission to taxi drivers who bring passengers to their dining rooms, but not so for hospitals.

Eyebrows were raised in Shanghai after a local hospital announced that taxi drivers could receive commission for delivering patients to them.

Shanghai West Orthopedics Hospital, which opened last March, had distributed about 500 flyers to drivers by the end of last December advising them that they would be paid 50 yuan (US$6) for each patient they brought to the hospital with a minor injury, and 300 yuan (US$37) for each with a serious injury.

A driver surnamed Wang said he thinks it is a bad idea for hospitals to offer this kind of reward.

"I won't deliberately recommend patients to come here, but I think some drivers will do it for the cash reward, even though it is not the nearest hospital. This could put patients at risk."

A resident surnamed Zhou said he thinks it is unnecessary to give drivers extra money.

"It is their responsibility to transport passengers to wherever they want to go. If the hospital insists (on giving rewards), it is much better to give it to those drivers who have helped save patients' lives."

He added: "There is no similar policy at other hospitals, so obviously competition for patients is not fair."

Hospital officials claimed the initiative was inspired by reports that some taxi drivers have refused to transport seriously injured people out of concern that their cars would be spoiled.

Hospital director Gu Mingjun said, "Our goal is purely to encourage drivers to deliver the injured to the hospital in good time, rather than leave them on the streets.

"We truly believe drivers are honest and won't be motivated by commercial interests."

He denied that the hospital will raise patient fees in order to cover the new expense.

"We set up a foundation last November with a sum of 10,000 yuan (US$1,250) to help those with special needs, and it will receive frequent donations from our staff. We will use this money."

The hospital stopped distributing the cards on Monday in response to an injunction from Shanghai Public Health Bureau.

The bureau said the city's emergency telephone number is 120, and patients are sent by ambulance to different hospitals based on their condition.

Paying rewards to drivers to carry patients to Shanghai West Orthopedics Hospital may delay treatment that could be given at a closer hospital, and consequently puts the patient at risk.

The hospital was asked to cease giving the flyers to taxi drivers and to review its administrative procedures, the Shanghai Oriental Morning Post reported.

Three drivers received commission before the practice was halted.

(China Daily January 5, 2006)

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