Economist calls plan to attract foreign patients 'evil' and 'crazy'

Prominent economist Ammar Siamwala yesterday called for the government to stop its plan to become a medical hub. He said the policy had already adversely affected the public health system by diverting resources, including physicians, from public hospitals to treat foreign patients instead of the poor in rural areas.

Being a medical hub "is the worst policy that the government could ever think up", he said.

Ammar was speaking at the 2010 Thailand Pharmaceutical Summit organised by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PReMA).

The medicalhub project, initiated in 2003 by the Thaksin Shinawatra government, included three facets: sickness prevention, spa services and Thai massage. It also promoted Thai herbalmedicine products.

Ammar said the policy had induced a lot of medical workers and physicians to quit public hospitals for private ones, where they can get higher salaries and benefits, causing a shortage of doctors and staff at rural hospitals.

He said the Public Health Ministry, which oversees public hospitals, could not compete with private hospitals.

"The ministry has already increased monthly salaries for medical workers and doctors at state hospitals but they still ask it to increase their salaries again and again. Never enough," he said. "How could the ministry compete with the private sector to attract medical workers?"

If the ministry decided to increase salaries enough to satisfy the medical workers, it would affect the National Health Security Fund and the Social Security Fund, as these two funds have to seek financial resources to support the salaries and allowances for medical workers.

"I would not suggest to the government the best way to go ahead with the plan. Instead I want the government to change its mind and stop this evil plan," he said.

He said some medical schools, such as the one at Siriraj Hospital, were seeking ways to increase the monthly salary for doctors to keep them in the publichealth system but also training them to provide premium medical services to foreign patients.

"Why should we welcome ill, rich foreign patients? This is so crazy," he said.

However, if the government is so stubborn as to go ahead with its medicalhub plan, he said it should collect fees from foreign patients to support the special fund for more medical workers and doctors at rural hospitals, which face a shortage of practitioners.

The Health Support Services Department, which oversees the government's medicalhub policy, is to conduct a public hearing on the idea. Ammar suggested that the department invite a patient network to participate in the public hearing.

Ammar also expressed concern over the high cost of treatment, especially among elderly people who suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes.

He said most pharmaceutical companies were focusing on creating new technology and medicines to treat elderly patients who suffer from chronic diseases and selling these at high prices.



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