Patients survive on painkillers as medical shortages delay surgeries at top Hanoi hospital

By Le Nga   March 2, 2023 | 10:27 pm PT
Many patients scheduled to receive surgeries at Viet Duc, the largest surgical center in northern Vietnam, are getting by with painkillers as the hospital has suspended surgeries due to shortages of medicines and supplies.

The hospital in Hanoi has announced the suspension of scheduled surgeries from Wednesday and is only providing treatment for emergency cases.

Manh, who suffers from severe osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease), was transferred from a hospital in his hometown in the nearby Nam Dinh Province for a knee joint replacement surgery on Wednesday. But he could not be operated on as Viet Duc is out of replacement joints.

"We've run out of artificial knee joints and are not sure when we will have them again," a doctor told Manh.

Manh was prescribed painkillers to ease his suffering while waiting for the surgery.

The 65-year-old is one of many patients who are in need of surgery but who were turned away over the past two days by Viet Duc, which is saving its limited supplies of equipment and medicine for emergency cases.

Patients wait at Viet Duc Hospital in Hanoi, March 1, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Le Nga

Patients wait for treatment and examination at Viet Duc Hospital in Hanoi, March 1, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Le Nga

Since last year, Viet Duc Hospital has performed over 79,000 surgeries. Thousands of people come to the hospital every day for diagnoses, treatments and other medical requests.

The hospital’s Orthopedics Department used to perform 40-45 surgeries a day, but has cut the number down to 20 since Wednesday.

"I was scheduled to operate on 19 patients on Wednesday, but eventually only the nine most necessary cases were cleared for surgeries," said a doctor who declined to be named.

The hospital has divided patients into three groups: Group 1, emergency cases whose surgeries cannot be delayed; Group 2, severe cases who need surgery as soon as possible, but who also need several more examinations than other patients; and Group 3, people who can wait longer.

Doctors are taking turns to calls the patients regularly to provide counseling rather than having them at the hospitals for direct examination.

Doctor Tran Binh Giang, director of the hospital, said that in the past, hospitals were allowed to use the health insurance fund of Vietnam Social Security system to pay for equipment, supplies, surgery chemicals, machines and services provided by companies and outside contractors.

However, a new government resolution that took effect in November 2022 prohibited the use of medical insurance to pay for such contracts. Thus, since December last year, many hospitals have not had the funds to buy new supplies.

A patient is admitted to Viet Duc Hospital for emergency aid, March 1, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Le Nga

A patient is admitted to Viet Duc Hospital for emergency treatment, March 1, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Le Nga

Viet Duc is now short of various materials, from basic ones such as anticoagulants to anesthetic needles.

"We've had to steam the equipment for reuse," a doctor said.

Another surgeon said he has been having more free time than normal, but is worried that when the supplies are refilled in the coming months, he will have to work day and night to take care of the backlog of patients.

At recent meetings, Giang has called for an urgent solution from the government to fix the problem, which is also troubling other major hospitals like Bach Mai in Hanoi and Cho Ray in Ho Chi Minh City.

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