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China has made a great effort to nurture qualified grassroots healthcare workers, the Minister of Health said on Thursday.
“The central government invested 450 million yuan ($721 million) to help 285 medical institutions train general physicians, and 50,000 grassroots healthcare workers participated in the training,” said Chen Zhu on the opening ceremony of the Second Global Symposium on Health Systems Research.
According to Chen, in the last three years, grassroots healthcare providers have given 10.8 billion consultations.
Grassroots healthcare providers include township-level hospitals, community healthcare centers and village healthcare stations.
The Chinese government started the latest round of healthcare reform in 2009. One of the reform’s goals is to provide affordable and high-quality healthcare services at the grassroots level, so that people don’t have to travel to large urban hospitals, which offer better but more expensive services, and which are limited in number.
“In the past three years, we have established a healthcare network that covers the largest population in the world,” said Sun Zhigang, vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission.
“We have strengthened training bases for general physicians, and have gradually developed a healthcare model where grassroots healthcare institutions and urban hospitals are each assigned reasonable and different tasks,” he said.
Zeng Yixin, president of the Peking Union Medical College Hospital, believes that qualified employees are crucial to consolidate healthcare services at the grassroots level.
“The key to improve grassroots healthcare levels is to attract more talent into the local healthcare systems,” said Zeng, who emphasized that being a grassroots healthcare worker is a demanding profession.
“A grassroots healthcare worker is first a general physician. Second, they should pay attention to preventive healthcare. Third, they should provide education on basic health knowledge. Also, those healthcare workers must have good interpersonal skills,” he said.
In July 2011, the State Council issued a guideline to increase grassroots general physicians to two to three qualified general physicians for every 10,000 people by 2020.
The Chinese government requires that a medical graduate should take up a three-year or two-year training program, rotating among different departments, before qualifying as a general physician.
However, grassroots healthcare centers in less developed areas have found it hard to recruit workers who are both willing and able to work there.
Zeng suggested that the government should set up a program of “visiting general physicians”, and offer them100,000 yuan ($15,896) a year in addition to their salaries.
“Hopefully, these people will further educate their colleagues and help to improve the quality of the local grassroots healthcare services,” said Zeng.