Scandal-hit PLA hospital stops admissions

The parents of Mr Wei Zexi, a computer science major at Xidian University in Shaanxi province who died of a rare form of cancer, outside a funeral home last month.
The parents of Mr Wei Zexi, a computer science major at Xidian University in Shaanxi province who died of a rare form of cancer, outside a funeral home last month.PHOTO: CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

It's under probe after death of student who sought cancer treatment after Baidu search

SHANGHAI • A Chinese military hospital embroiled in a scandal over the death of a student who had sought experimental cancer treatment at the facility has temporarily closed its doors to new patients.

The Second Hospital of Beijing Armed Police Corps has stopped new admissions, the state-run People's Daily said yesterday in a post on its official microblog, a day after the Health Ministry launched an investigation into the hospital, reported Reuters.

College student Wei Zexi, 21, died last month of a rare form of cancer. He had gone to the hospital for treatment after finding information about it on the domestic search engine Baidu Inc , which is also being probed over the case.

"Due to the hospital undergoing education and rectification, we will... temporarily suspend all external services," the hospital said in a notice posted by the People's Daily. These included emergency care, outpatient and inpatient services.

Before he died, Mr Wei had accused Baidu of promoting false medical information and the hospital of running misleading advertisements that claimed a high success rate for the treatment, state radio said.

Mr Wei spent more than 200,000 yuan (S$41,600) on the experimental immunotherapy treatment, which the hospital's biological treatment centre for oncology had claimed was cutting-edge technology brought in from the United States, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) said.

The People's Daily, the Communist Party's flagship publication, published a commentary this week that questioned Baidu's ethics. "Billions of Net users trusted Baidu for their search engine and online forum services, the company is hence responsible for the trust and is obligated to taking up their social responsibilities," the New York Times quoted the commentary as saying.

China's Cyberspace Administration, the country's online regulator, on Monday said it would conduct a joint investigation into Baidu with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce as well as the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

Baidu said in a statement that it deeply regretted Mr Wei's death and would cooperate fully with the investigation. China's paramilitary police, which ran the hospital, also said it would cooperate with the probe.

Mr Wei's death has also cast the spotlight on a practice common among military-affiliated hospitals, highly trusted by most civilians, of outsourcing medical services to private firms, reported SCMP.

Commentators have said that at the heart of China's latest medical scandal is rampant corruption in an overstretched healthcare system.

Analyst Chen Daoyin told SCMP the military's excessive power and resources were at the root of the problems. "The military is an independent kingdom alongside the central government that was not subject to monitoring in any form. The more power one gets, the more corrupt one becomes."

The Second Hospital of Beijing Armed Police Corps is part of a nationwide network of hospitals and other medical institutions affiliated to the People's Liberation Army (PLA). They are mainly overseen by the military authorities, not the Health Ministry.

Since the 1980s, it has been common practice for China's military hospitals to seek out civilian patients, largely as a means of supplementing inadequate budgets. But over the years, some of these hospitals have earned large amounts of money, thanks in part to cosy relations between them and private healthcare companies, reported the Sixth Tone news website.

In March, as part of a move to rid the PLA of corruption, China's Central Military Commission issued a circular announcing plans to terminate commercial pursuits by the military over the next three years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Scandal-hit PLA hospital stops admissions'. Print Edition | Subscribe