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New Moves to Guide Buying of Medical Equipment

The Ministry of Health will get professional advice in the purchase of medical equipment in a bid to clean up the corruption-plagued healthcare sector.

An 800-member team of medical and healthcare experts has been formed by the China Medical Equipment Association (CMEA), under the ministry.

The team is tasked with securing quality medical equipment at reduced costs.

"The team will draw up a recommended list of medical equipment after examination of information provided by manufacturers about their products," said CMEA Director Li Banling.

The assessment will take into consideration the practical needs of all involved partners, including the government, hospitals and medical equipment manufacturers, Li said.

To guarantee an open, fair assessment, members of the team will be randomly selected for each task.

"No medical institution above county level will be allowed to evade the purchasing conducted by the medical authorities," said Zhao Zilin, director of the ministry's Budget and Financial Planning Department.

Each item of equipment bought by hospitals must be on the recommended list, he said.

"The ultimate goal is to benefit the general public in terms of a reduction in health expenditure," Zhao said.

China's total medical health expenditure was more than 800 billion yuan in 2006, according to official statistics. About half of it was shouldered by patients.

Healthcare insiders said many medical institutions purchase unnecessary state-of-the-art equipment, to realize fat profits from patients.

To relieve the burden on the public from over-priced health services, the government has kept capping the price of a variety of medicines, but not the fees for physical check-ups.

The government will invite bids and use competitive negotiations in its collective purchasing of equipment, to be undertaken by the Ministry's International Communication and Cooperation Center.

"All stakeholders, the government and the producers alike, should practice self discipline to jointly contribute to 'transparent purchasing'," said Li Hongshan, director of the center.

Gerard Kleisterlee, Philips' president and chief executive officer, said he expects the market to grow about 10 per cent over the next three years, making it the third-largest medical equipment market, after the United States and Japan.

In the next five to seven years, the Chinese market is expected to surpass Japan to become the world's second-largest medical equipment market.

(China Daily July 28, 2007)

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