Premier Li Keqiang said that the authorities should aim to make the job of village doctors more attractive.
He made the comments at a State Council executive meeting on Jan 19.
The meeting focused on improving village doctor services to ensure the right to health of rural residents.
Premier Li said that China’s urbanization still has a long way to go, and there will thus still be a need for village doctors over the next few decades.
The Premier also said that the authorities should do their best to encourage capable village doctors to stay in rural areas by improving their working conditions and pay.
He added that it met with the government’s focus on disease prevention, and also the necessity to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for rural residents.
“Statistics show that we had only one million village doctors in 2009, and the number now reaches 1.3 million, which clearly shows that there is a great demand for village doctors among rural residents,” Premier Li said.
He also said that when he visited various areas around the country, he found that some villages with thousands of residents had only one doctor — and that local residents “worship” the doctors and show great respect for them — though the doctors may be relatively young.
And, during a visit to people at the grassroots level, Premier Li called village doctors the “health guards” of villagers. He also said that China will remain in the primary stage of socialism “for a long time”, adding that improving village doctor services meets the requirements of the country’s rural residents.
The Premier said, “China is such a large country — so the situation varies a great deal, according to the location.” And he also said the role played by village doctors in many remote mountainous areas — especially areas with an inadequate transportation system — is invaluable, and the doctors cannot be replaced by the public hospitals in the nearest cities.
Premier Li said that more efforts should be made to offer free training for village doctors.
“The training written in a current document are mainly provided by county-level medical institutions and township health centers. This can be well improved. Those village doctors who have some education background can receive training directly in provincial and municipal hospitals,” said Premier Li.
The Premier mentioned two major issues facing village doctors. One concerns poor working conditions and low pay which make the job unattractive, and the other concerns the fact that doctors are not adequately trained.
He said that during a visit to people at the grassroots level, he met several junior college students working as village doctors in their hometown — and the authorities should offer them better conditions as they “have the ambition to serve other villagers”.
The Premier also said he thinks the situation “deserves” more government funds — and this approach would be “more effective than spending money building big hospitals.”
Additionally, during a visit to the Inner Mongolia autonomous region in March last year, the Premier discovered that a father and son who were both village doctors — at a healthcare center in Chifeng city — received very little pay.
The two also have to do farm work to supplement their income and, when the Premier heard that their situation was quite common, he immediately talked to accompanying officials from various departments — and reached an agreement at a later meeting, requiring that all increases concerning basic public health service fees would be directed towards increasing the pay of village doctors that year.
The Premier also stated this decision at the State Council executive meeting on Jan 19.
He said that government buying services should help develop village doctor services — by ensuring a decent income for the doctors and also making sure that they would be entitled to a pension.
“There are 600 to 700 million rural residents in China, and the majority depend on village doctors for medical services. It is difficult for villagers in remote mountainous areas to walk a long way to get medical services in town,” said the Premier. He also said the pay of village doctors should be improved “in various ways to relieve their anxieties.”