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Doctor Shortage Hurts Communities
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A lack of doctors has become a bottleneck in the nation's ambitious plan to reform its community health care system, according to a proposal from the Jiu San Society to the CPPCC session.

The authorities pledged in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) that they would build and improve hospitals at the community level in cities so residents can enjoy more affordable and convenient healthcare than at present.

But there are far from enough qualified doctors to work at community hospitals, amounting to only 2.5 percent of the amount needed, according to the proposal from the party of university professors, scientists and social scientists.

There are no more than 4,000 general practitioners, or family physicians, in China. However, it would take 160,000 such doctors to meet the medical needs of the country's 500 million urban residents at community hospitals.

The Jiu San Society highlighted family medicine education in its proposal. It suggested creating a family medicine major at medical schools and having medical students intern at community hospitals.

None of China's 99 medical schools offer such a major, and only about 20 of them have family medicine as an elective course, it said.

The party also proposed that family physicians working at community hospitals receive as much pay as doctors at large hospitals.

Since the 1950s, China has been building clinics called "health stops" at the community level in cities and village levels in rural areas.

But amid the tide of reform sweeping across China in the last three decades, most of the doctors at these clinics left their positions because they were not covered by the nation's government-financed healthcare system, according to the proposal.

When the government swore to build a community healthcare system last year, it faced not only a lack of doctors but also a shortage of public confidence in community hospitals.

In a survey carried out by the popular Web portal Sina.com last month, more than 70 percent of the 4,000 respondents said they could not trust doctors at community hospitals to look after their health.

(China Daily March 7, 2007)

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