Vietnam needs more practical measures to address medical supply shortage

Hospitals nationwide, despite trying their best, still cannot manage the serious medicine shortage at present. This is an alarming state, resulting from inadequacies in medicine bidding as well as the fear among hospital managers in carrying out this bidding procedure.

Lack of medicine in many hospitals has negative affected the right of patients. (Photo: SGGP)

Director of the National Otolaryngology Hospital affirmed that there has been a state of medicine and medical equipment lack in his hospital; therefore, at peak time, patients here have to change to other hospitals for such technical services as CT and MRI scans, surgical procedures.

Similarly, the Central Eye Hospital cannot perform vitreous replacement surgery for patients as the replacements are out of stock. The hospital has to perform temporary laser treatment for patients with cataracts.

Sharing the same agonizing state are renowned hospitals like Vietnam National Cancer Hospital, Hanoi Oncology Hospital, Bach Mai Hospital. A lack of several machines for technical services, medicines under health insurance, and medical supplies have forced patients in need to wait dangerously or move to various clinics for medical tests.

On their side, medical supply manufacturers or import-export businesses for medicines are encountering various obstacles due to inadequacies in bidding regulations to match a hospital’s demands (terms of payment procedures, requirements on deadline for payment, conditions on drug expiration dates, conditions on drug price differences), unstable exchange rates, and disturbed supply sources.

One of the most worrying issues is the upward trend of exchange rate between USD and VND lately, leading to price increases in imported medicines, and thus necessary but time-consuming redeclaration of drug prices to the Drug Administration of Vietnam.

Other pharmaceutical enterprises complained that inadequacies in drug price management and bidding plan preparation have resulted in unreasonable drug prices for many years, while the real situation is changing so swiftly due to inflation. These have put more pressure on the shoulder of pharmaceutical businesses.

One more troublesome fact is that since there is not enough medicines in hospitals, patients need to buy them outside, causing a revenue drop in these medical institutes. That, in turn, prevents those hospitals from paying debt to medicine suppliers on time, and hence a discontinuation of medicine provision. It has become a vicious circle.

The Health Department of Dak Lak Province commented that one of the reasons for medicine and medical supply shortage in the province is a lack of capable human resources in medicine bidding tasks. This comes from the fact that one employee in this field has been captured for the crime of ‘responsibility lack leading to serious impacts’. Two others have resigned from their positions and one last officer is on maternal leave.

To address these problems, National Assembly delegate Nguyen Lan Hieu voiced that there must be clear bidding regulations from the Planning and Investment Ministry so that hospitals have a strong foundation to introduce their own standards and criteria when selecting reliable medicine contractors. Sanctions must also be detailed to eliminate any incapable contractors that cannot gain sufficient merchandise to timely deliver to the hospitals, severely affecting normal operations of these medical institutes.

National Assembly delegate Pham Khanh Phong Lan proposed that since medicine bidding is not always an ideal measure to obtain drugs, hospitals should be given a right to decide their medical suppliers as long as they can satisfy the demands of their patients. Health insurance just needs to care for the payment stage.

According to Le Van Son, President of the Board of Director of Vietnam Pharmaceutical Corporation, one tough challenge of domestic pharmaceutical enterprises is the tardiness of state agencies in issuing drug registration numbers to even 2-3 years as the application backlog at the Drug Administration of Vietnam is too long.

In addition, many businesses complained that they are having trouble with regulations on specially controlled medicine, since many in this list are being widely used to treat infectious diseases. It is these regulations that unwantedly increase drug prices and reduce the competitiveness of made-in-Vietnam medicine to imported one.

Lastly, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Le Van Truyen, former Deputy Minister of Health cum Chairman of the Advisor Council for drug certificate issuance, said that it is high time to revise inadequate regulations in medicine bidding, which are causing fear among officers of hospitals when carrying out this important task. Only then can hospital receive sufficient drugs from stable supply sources.

The Government has just introduced Resolution No.144 about ensuring enough medicine, medical equipment, and payment from health insurance for medical examination and treatment. Accordingly, within their power, the Ministries of Health, Planning and Investment, Finance are asked to urgently review, adjust, and supplement legal documents related to purchasing, bidding, manufacturing, importing medicine and medical equipment in order to address current problems as soon as possible. Any content out of their power must be submitted to corresponding state units for consideration and adjustment.

Chairmen of the People’s Committees at provincial level are required to direct health clinics and centralized purchasing units in their localities to buy necessary medicine and medical equipment within their power. Leaders of medical institutes must avoid shortages of medicine or medical equipment at all costs. They should increase inspection, supervision in these matters while improve the autonomy and self-responsibility in purchasing this important merchandise.

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