The Ministry of Health has ordered hospitals to set up hotlines to receive feedback from patients as a way to enable them to evaluate the quality of treatment, attitudes of medical staff and emergency medical care.

The move is part of the ministry's efforts to improve treatment for patients and the medical ethics of doctors and nurses following public outrage at a series of recent controversies.

Apart from the establishment of individual hospital hotlines, hotlines by city and provincial health departments, and the telephone numbers of hospital administrators must also be posted in accessible locations, such as reception areas, treatment, emergency and operating rooms and other public locations inside hospitals.

Hospitals have also been told to mobilise medical workers to answer hotline calls round-the-clock. The workers must resolve complaints from patients or transfer calls to the relevant departments.

Medical workers who are reported and deemed to be irresponsible in dealing with complaints will be punished, including being subjected to public criticism, reduction in salaries or demotions.

The ministry has also required hospitals to implement other measures, including making surveys on the level of satisfaction among patients, installing cameras, setting up complaint mailboxes and increasing the operation of customer services in hospitals.

In addition, hospital administrators will be required to inspect the operation of the hotlines at least once a week and report to authorities every six months.

The ministry also asked the departments of health in cities and provinces to set up a phone-in service for patients whose problems remain unresolved or neglected after they have complained to a hospital's hotline.

In Hanoi, many central hospitals established their own hotlines several years before the ministry's new requirement was issued.

However, the hotlines, which are usually just printed on A4 paper and posted in hidden places, only aim to provide health consultancy to callers.

Dr Do Thanh Cong, who was in charge of one of the three hotlines at Hanoi-based Cancer Hospital, said that he usually received between three to six calls each day. Most were from patients in rural areas asking about treatment procedures.

"Some called and complained about waiting for a check-up for a long time. I, myself, haven't received any call complaining about the bad attitude of doctors here," he said.

Cong said the hotline was established two years ago, and medical staff took turns offering patients health assistance over the phone.

The hospital also set up a drop box to receive complaints from patients, but the boxes did not work well, as few patients wanted to spend time writing down their complaints, he said.

Truong Thi Vinh, who is from central Thanh Hoa province and receiving treatment in Bach Mai Hospital, said she had experienced frosty attitudes and even anger from doctors who gave her an ultrasound treatment, but she had not known to whom she could complain.

"I haven't heard about the hotline, and I won't call until I've finished the treatment," she said.

"It is there to assure patients that they will be treated better when they make a phone call but no one dares to report on their problem as they fear they will be treated worse in the future."

Last month, the Ministry of Health set up a hotline to receive the public's feedback on medical ethics.

The service, which is reached by calling 0973.306.306, received more than 280 calls within ten days, with people complaining about the attitudes shown by medical staff to patients and the steep hospital fees.-VNA