China over-reliant on hospitals, needs more family doctors: WHO

A cancer patient pushes his drip stand as he walks down the hallway of a hospital in Beijing.
A cancer patient pushes his drip stand as he walks down the hallway of a hospital in Beijing.PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's healthcare system is overly reliant on large, over-burdened hospitals, which will struggle to cope with a spike in diseases linked to the fast-ageing population, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday (Aug 20).

Even for minor ailments, Chinese patients often shun family doctors or general practitioners in favour of big-city general hospitals, a trend that creates often snarling queues and fierce competition for treatment.

"As China's health challenges ... continue to mount, with an ageing population, so too will the demands on the country's health system, along with the costs," WHO China representative Bernhard Schwartlander said in a commentary, pointing to rising rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease. "It is simply not sustainable to meet these challenges in a health system that relies on hospitals."

China has been trying to overhaul its healthcare system, including promoting local, grassroots medical facilities and pledging to raise the number - and quality - of local GPs. However, low doctor salaries and a lack of trust by patients in local health centres has slowed progress.

The WHO pointed to long queues, difficult booking systems and tight consultation slots that often last just a few minutes.

"(It is) a symptom of the enormous patient load and pressure which doctors in China face every day," it said. "But this is not how things should be in a well-functioning health system."