Hanoi medical supply shortage forces patients to buy own needles

By Chi Le   June 16, 2022 | 08:23 pm PT
Hanoi medical supply shortage forces patients to buy own needles
A nurse delivers drugs to cancer patients at the K Hospital in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Quang Hung
A supply shortage in several Hanoi hospitals is forcing patients to purchase basic medical equipment like catheters and IV needles on their own.

Linh, 33, was informed by Hanoi's K Hospital in Hoan Kiem District that she would have to purchase a catheter on her own for the surgery of a family member with thyroid cancer.

The hospital's staff said they lacked certain medical equipment like catheters, which meant patients or their family had to buy them from outside.

After the surgery, Linh was asked to buy an IV needle for another procedure. All in all, she had to buy 10 IV needles at VND3,000 (13 cents) each, along with a catheter, costing around VND800,000 in total. Normally, these items are covered by medical insurance.

"It wasn't much, but the fact that the hospital lacks such equipment is troublesome. The surgery date was close when we had to buy catheters. Doctors even had to borrow one of our IV needles the other day for a patient who needed it," Linh said.

Hong, 47, said her husband was scheduled to have a surgery to remove a tumor in his shoulder. When he was about go under the knife, doctors told her to go buy an IV needle.

Hong, who is from Hai Duong and not familiar with Hanoi's streets, bought the wrong kind of needle and had to make several trips to get the right one.

"I'm angry. My husband has cancer and is about to undergo a surgery, yet I had to run around to buy medical equipment," she said.

The supply shortage is sweeping through several public hospitals in the capital city. At the Dong Anh General Hospital in the eponymous district, several doctors have raised concerns about the lack of certain essential chemicals and other biological products needed for different purposes. For example, the lack of certain chemicals to determine if a patient has myocardial infarction would force hospitals to send samples to other facilities to be tested instead.

The lack of supplies also means the lack of access to certain medical procedures. For example, the removal of certain kidney stones would only require a small incision given the right tools, but without them, a more invasive procedure would be needed, which is more costly and may leave scars.

"The lack of medical supplies, especially essential ones, will severely impact treatment," said a doctor who wanted to remain unnamed.

A representative of the K Hospital said the shortage of IV needles and certain tools has lasted for about three weeks because the hospital has yet to go through a bidding process to purchase the items. While there are no problems with investments, the hospital needs to settle on the best prices to minimize costs and ensure treatment quality.

The representative said bidding results should be available in another 1-2 weeks and supplies restored early next month.

Another representative of a Hanoi hospital said the shortage was caused by "complicated legal bidding procedures." Units have to double-check everything carefully to make sure they don't break any law, thus slowing down the process considerably.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also plunged several hospitals into financial difficulties, meaning they have had to curtail their purchases. Most medical supplies are also imported, and the fact that businesses have not fully recovered from the pandemic means supply chains are imperfect. Certain drugs and other medical products also require lengthy bidding processes.

Hanoi hospitals are also facing a drug shortage due to bidding difficulties, pricing problems and low demand, among other issues.

A representative of the Ministry of Health’s Department of Planning and Finance said they were aware of the problems in hospitals and were looking into ways to resolve them.

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