Scandal brews over China tea-for-urine samples

BEIJING Wed Mar 21, 2007 10:10am EDT

A waiter pours a a cup of tea in Sydney, July 26, 2005. A group of Chinese reporters came up with a novel idea to test how greedy local hospitals were -- pass off tea as urine samples and submit the drink for tests. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

A waiter pours a a cup of tea in Sydney, July 26, 2005. A group of Chinese reporters came up with a novel idea to test how greedy local hospitals were -- pass off tea as urine samples and submit the drink for tests.

Credit: Reuters/Tim Wimborne

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A group of Chinese reporters came up with a novel idea to test how greedy local hospitals were -- pass off tea as urine samples and submit the drink for tests.

The results: six out of 10 hospitals in Hangzhou, the capital of the rich coastal province of Zhejiang, visited by the reporters over a two-day period this month concluded that the patients' urinal tracts were infected.

Five of the hospitals prescribed medication costing up to 400 yuan ($50), the online edition of the semi-official China News Service (www.chinanews.com) said in a report seen on Wednesday. Of the hospitals, four were state-owned.

"It makes one shiver all over even though it's not cold," the China News Service said after its reporters and colleagues from Zhejiang Television tested the hospitals.

The Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper said in a commentary on Wednesday: "Healthy people are diagnosed with diseases. Small ailments are said to be serious problems. Patients have become automatic teller machines for the hospitals."

The failure of health reforms and rising costs of medical care have sparked social discontent and become flashpoints for unrest in the world's most populous nation, where millions cannot afford to consult doctors or buy medicine.

Health Minister Gao Qiang has accused greedy hospitals of charging excessive fees and prescribing unnecessary and expensive medication.

Market reforms in the past two decades have cut off state subsidies to many hospitals and left the health care system in need of life support.

State media have reported patients committing suicide because they cannot afford exorbitant medical costs.

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