The Ministry of Health is planning legal action against the numerous private medical clinics that operate in Phnom Penh without licenses, ministry officials said Wednesday.
Many people in Phnom Penh use private health clinics, which are often faster than state hospitals but more expensive, officials said.
However, the prevalence of unlicensed operations means that many clinics may lack adequate equipment and staff, or employ unqualified doctors, said Chen Chhear, acting director of hospital services at the Ministry of Health.
There are at least 50 large private clinics and more than 700 smaller ones in Phnom Penh, and half of them are operating without licenses, Municipal Health Department Director Veng Thai said.
“The clinic owners bribe the local authorities, or they rely on the high-ranking officers who patronize them to keep them operating,” he said.
To make matters worse, the ministry lacks staff to inspect clinics that it has already licensed, Chen Chhear said.
“We don’t know whether those clinics have [acceptable standards of] quality or not,” she said.
The first step in the ministry’s attempt to correct the situation is to find the clinics that are operating unlicensed and file court complaints against them, Chen Chhear said.
“We have advised those private clinics already, but they didn’t comply. We will inform them again before we file the complaint,” she said.
By early next year, Chen Chhear said she expects to deploy a monitoring group to make sure that the private clinics the ministry has licensed remain in compliance with government standards. They include maintaining sufficient facilities and equipment to treat patients, keeping emergency facilities available at all hours and employing doctors with at least three years’ experience, officials said.
Most of the unlicensed clinics in Phnom Penh are Vietnamese- or Chinese-run, Veng Thai said.
One of the practices Chen Chhear wants to put a stop to is foreign-run clinics using their ambulances to transport patients to hospitals in neighboring countries, a practice she fears could be a front for human trafficking. “Some of the clinics are only thinking of making money,” she said.
The ministry made a similar move in June 2001 when it issued a directive listing 63 unlicensed foreign clinics that would be shut down if they did not register.