16 October 2018
Beijing hospitals must cope with a flood of patients coming into the capital in search of the best medical care: Photo: Reuters
Beijing hospitals must cope with a flood of patients coming into the capital in search of the best medical care: Photo: Reuters

Beijing feels the pain of acute patient influx

Like its schools and universities, hospitals in Beijing are not just for local residents. The capital has some of the nation’s best medical facilities and naturally, they are magnets for people from outside the city, especially patients from northern China seeking the best possible treatment.

Xinhua puts the number of non-local patients at 700,000 per day and 250 million a year. Of this staggering influx of non-local patients, neighboring Hebei province contributes about 23 percent of the total. Tiantan Hospital, Beijing Children’s Hospital, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, You An Hospital, Peking University Cancer Hospital, Peking University People’s Hospital and the General Hospital of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army take most of the non-local patients.

But with hundreds of thousands of non-local patients flocking to Beijing every day, how is the city — already enmeshed in gridlock and air pollution — supposed to cope? 

China still maintains rigid and sophisticated hierarchies for virtually all sorts of institutions — there are key universities and less prestigious ones. Likewise, there are three grades and 10 levels for hospitals and other medical institutions and the best get the Ministry of Health’s Grade Three AAA rating.

Beijing has the nation’s highest concentration of such top-notch hospitals with a total of 53. Surrounding Hebei, by stark contrast, has more than three times Beijing’s population but less than half of its number of Grade Three AAA hospitals. Good medical care is in particularly short supply in the 24 Hebei counties that surround Beijing and Tianjin, an area described by the Asian Development Bank as a “poverty belt”. It should come as no surprise then that Hebei residents are willing to commute to the capital in search of the best care.

The result is that big hospitals in Beijing are simply overwhelmed. Beijing Children’s Hospital, for example, handles more than 3,000 cases a day at its accident and emergency department. The Beijing Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning said there were altogether 294,000 medical professionals in the city as of last year, yet that number is still short of demand.

While Beijing hospitals grapple with overcrowding, a large and well-fitted Grade Three AAA hospital in Yanjiao, a Hebei county just 30 kilometers from Tiananmen Square, has up to 70 percent of its beds unoccupied. The hospital is close to Tongzhou, a major commuter town in Beijing, and could help ease some of the burden on the capital. The snag is red tape — people in Tongzhou still need to travel to hospitals in downtown Beijing because payment receipts issued by Hebei hospitals cannot be reimbursed in Beijing.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


Numerous parents outside Beijing take their children to the capital’s children’s hospital, the only Grade Three AAA pediatric hospital in northern China. Photo: Xinhua

EJ Insight writer

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