While some doctors at public hospitals have been forced to seek other jobs due to low salaries, others have found a way to earn hundreds of millions of dong per month in a situation that has some health experts worried.

Nguyen Ngoc Hung, head of the Internal Medicine at Hospital 09 which specialises in treating HIV/AIDS patients, said that he has worked at the hospital for 15 years in spite of the hard work and a meagre income.

Director of the hospital Tran Quoc Tuan said: "More than 80 percent of the staff rent their homes. Although they receive supplementary income equalling 70 percent of their salary, it is still not enough to meet their living requirements."

Low salaries and pressure at work have made it difficult for the hospital to recruit new doctors over the last five years, said Ly Tran Tinh, director of the Hanoi Psychiatric Hospital , adding that some doctors only worked for a few days each week, leaving the hospital understaffed.

Doctors in his hospital only earn 3 million VND (142 USD) per month. Many have quit, he said.

Meanwhile, specialists in areas such as ob/gyn, paediatrics, dermatology and otorhinolaryngology (head and neck surgery) could earn up to 400 million VND (19,000 USD) per month at private clinics, said Vu Hoang Nguyen, director of Tri Duc Hospital in Hanoi.

Tong Quang Hung of the Hanoi Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital said: "We have to distinguish between salary and income. In fact, doctor's salaries are currently very low. The salary that we receive from the State is not worth our effort so many doctors choose to do part-time work in private clinics."

"I also thought about moving to a private hospital where I could earn up to 50 million VND per month but instead I decided to stay at my hospital while supplementing my income by working at private clinics outside," he said.

Many patients prefered to go to private hospitals where they could receive faster and better treatment than in public ones, said Nguyen Tien Luan of Hanoi 's Ba Dinh district.

Former Health Minister Dr Pham Song said that only a few doctors actually quit working at public hospitals to open their own clinics or work in the private health sector. Most of them were probably young and made the choice to move to the private sector because they were not able to make career advancements at their workplace.

The reality raised the alert for policymakers, Song stressed, saying that the Government should change its salary policy for doctors, and hospital leaders should pay more attention to the working environment and doctors' expectations and desires.

It was also necessary to develop policies that would require medical school students to commit to working for two to three years in public hospitals after graduation, and potentially even longer if they pursued sponsored- training courses, he said. /.