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Ambulance scandal shines light on transport monopoly at Vietnam’s hospitals

Tuesday, July 12, 2016, 08:51 GMT+7

The monopoly on transport services at Vietnamese hospitals has come under fire after an outsourced ambulance carrying a dying child was denied passage at a central hospital in Hanoi earlier this month.

Footage emerged online earlier this month showing a group of security guards at the Vietnam National Hospital of Pediatrics (VNHP) in Hanoi preventing an ambulance carrying a dying child from leaving the hospital, as the boy’s mother wailed in anguish.

The boy was suffering from multiple inborn heart malfunctions and had been returned home from an unsuccessful surgery. He died aboard the ambulance before it had been allowed to leave the hospital, according to the transport ministry-run Giao Thong (Transportation) newspaper, which cited the ambulance’s driver Mr. Nguyen Canh Toan.

In the nearly nine-minute clip filmed by Toan, the group of hospital guards is heard swearing and threatening to lock the vehicle’s wheels with a chain, despite the patient’s family presenting the appropriate discharge papers.

It was revealed later that the guards had blocked the ambulance because it was a privately hired one, while patients at the hospital are encouraged to use the monopolized ambulance at nearly triple the cost.

Although the guards involved have been fired and the hospital has made a public apology, the scandal has sparked a debate over the monopoly in providing transport services at hospitals in Vietnam.

Tran Minh Dien, Deputy Director at VNHP, admitted that the policy of allowing only one brand of taxi to park and pick up passengers inside the hospital’s grounds had been in place for three years to maintain order and prevent taxi drivers from fighting for passengers.

In answer to the ambulance scandal, Dien said the hospital was trying its best to improve its services, adding that allowing all vehicles to enter and leave the hospital would result in disorder.

The incident has caused public outrage, with many sharing their own experiences and denouncing the situation at hospitals around the country in terms of transport services, ambulances and taxis alike.

D., a father whose child was once admitted to VNHP for three months, recalled his experience on the Facebook page of Vietnamese Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien.

D. said the ‘ambulance brokers’ at the hospital were experienced and would make contact with families as soon as they got wind of the family’s intention to use the service.

As ambulances from other service providers were not allowed to pick up patients inside the hospital, D. and many others had no choice but to use their overpriced service.

“Patients already have a mountain of hospital bills to pay,” D. wrote, “We have to cut down on every penny of our spendings even for food, let alone [VND] millions”.

Meanwhile, one taxi driver in Hanoi said that the taxi service is also monopolized at the hospital, with passengers having to walk outside the hospital to hail any taxi company other than the one exclusive to the hospital.

“If a taxi from any other company was to pick up passengers inside after dropping their previous passengers off, the passengers would be made to step off and walk all the way to the front before getting on again,” the driver said.

The country’s Ministry of Health said it would hold a meeting with hospitals this week to rectify the provision of non-medical services at hospitals, attributing the recent scandals to the outsourcing of such services.

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