Chinese Doctor Takes on China's National Health Commission Over Oncology Fraud

Oncologist Zhang Yu says the failure to find evidence of wrongdoing by a Shanghai colleague is 'out and out lies.'
2021-05-07
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Chinese Doctor Takes on China's National Health Commission Over Oncology Fraud Zhang Yu (right), an oncologist at Peking University No. 3 Hospital (left), is shown in an undated photo.
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A Chinese doctor who blew the whistle on a colleague's treatment of a cancer patient has rejected the results of an official probe into the case.

Zhang Yu, an oncologist at the Peking University No. 3 Hospital, hit the headlines after accusing dozens of doctors at top hospitals in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou of malpractice in their treatment of cancer patients.

Among them, Zhang named Lu Wei, a deputy chief physician at Xinhua Hospital affiliated to Shanghai Jiaotong University, accusing him of deceiving a patient with advanced stomach cancer into paying out thousands of U.S. dollars on unapproved treatments.

He accused Lu of prescribing natural killer cell-based cancer immunotherapy, which is not yet approved in China for clinical use. The patient died in December after the 30,000 yuan treatment. Zhang alleged that the treatment had likely accelerated his demise.

China's National Health Commission launched an investigation into Lu's conduct, but concluded that his management of the case had "basically" complied with Chinese law and medical guidelines.

Zhang fired back with a second post on Wednesday, calling the findings by the expert panel "out-and-out lies" and an endorsement of medical malpractice. He has vowed to continue to speak out about the issue.

An investigation by the cutting-edge news site Caixin later found that Lu Wei had business links to the company that administered the therapy.

According to Zhang, Lu was also in the habit of strongly recommending that his patients get their genomes sequenced at Shanghai Iread Gene Technology, a biotech company established in 2016. Lu has claimed he received no commission for these referrals.

'Getting rich, letting people die'

He Anquan, a physician now based overseas who once practiced medicine in Shanghai, said the kinds of accusations Zhang Yu had made sounded familiar and plausible to him.

"The entirety of China's vast medical system and healthcare industry and the whole of Chinese society are all singing from the same hymn sheet, the same song about getting rich and letting people die," He told RFA.

"The medical malpractice pointed out by Dr. Zhang Yu isn't going to be affected one bit [by the scandal]," he said.

Repeated calls to Zhang Yu and Lu Wei went unanswered on Thursday.

Both doctors are currently suspended from medical practice, according to Chinese media reports.

Beijing-based political commentator Hua Po said he believed Zhang Yu was telling the truth.

"Some patients, although they're unaware of the inside story, when they go to the hospital, will be subjected to fraudulent practices and money-spinning by doctors and medical institutions," Hua said.

"It's all about cleaning out your pockets," he said.

Rights activist and health rights campaigner Hu Jia said Zhang would likely face retaliation from the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for his outspokenness, amid a zero tolerance policy for any kind of public dissent.

"Industry insiders who blow the whistle on these issues, whether or not they are resolved, will likely face total suppression by the system," Hu said.

"This is something we are very concerned about."

Need for an open debate

Wuhan doctor Ai Fen, who is now unable to work after receiving botched treatment for a detached retina, said she also worries about the repercussions for Zhang.

Ai was one of the doctors who first sounded the alarm on Dec. 30 about the emergence of a mystery virus in Wuhan that seemed similar to SARS.

She worries that Zhang Yu, like her, will face the risk of suppression because of telling the truth.

"Zhang Yu is insisting on an open debate, which means he could lose his medical license," Ai said. "This shows how much confidence he must have."

"The National Health Commission will never admit that cancers were overtreated, because too many vested interests are involved," she said.

"Everyone knows that this is wrong ... and many people are willing to speak out in private, but not publicly," Ai said.

Former state journalist Liu Shui said Zhang is now taking on the CCP and the machinery of state alone.

"He has put the National Health Commission in an embarrassing position ... this kind of courage is very important," Liu said. "They are definitely going to retaliate against him."

"The entire healthcare system is a huge mass of vested interests," he said.

Reported by Xiaoshan Wu, Chingman and Jia Ao for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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