Health Minister Hong Sun Huot met with doctors and other staff members at Preah Bat Norodom Sihanouk Hospital on Wednesday to follow up on reports of a woman who was denied treatment because she was poor.
The alleged incident was cited by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week when he lashed out at medical professionals, chastising them for refusing to treat patients who have no money. Doctors, whose official salaries are often $15 a month, are supposed to treat poor patients free of charge but their low salaries prompt many of them to charge extra fees or illegally receive payments.
More than 400 doctors and other hospital staff members told Hong Sun Huot that the government should understand the difficulties they have because of their low salary, lack of equipment and an inadequate stock of medicine.
Chhem Yayen, one of the doctors at the hospital, acknowledged that there were some immoral doctors, but they are not completely at fault.
“No one would want to do bad things if they worked in good conditions,” Chhem Yayen said.
Hong Sun Huot listened to the doctors’ comments and said he would pay visits to other hospitals to get a better idea of conditions in which health professionals work. He promised to take the issue to a higher level if it could not be solved within the ministry.
“I know doctors and other civil servants have difficulties,” Hong Sun Huot said. “That’s why I want to understand the real problem.”
Last week, Hun Sen called for a revolution in medical ethics after reading about 33-year-old Hem Han, who became a monk several weeks ago after his wife died of pneumonia.
Hem Han said he had taken his wife to Preah Bat Norodom Sihanouk Hospital, but doctors there refused to treat her because she had no money.
“Physicians should have dignity, serve patients and not use public service for their own interest,” said Sau Sokhun, undersecretary of state at the Health Ministry, who also attended the meeting at the hospital.
Stephane Rousseau, the executive director of the prominent health NGO, Medicam, said he welcomed the news that the health minister was following up and taking action, but that solving the problems would be a challenge.