A Chinese court in Beijing has jailed 15 hospital "scalpers" for scamming unsuspecting patients by posing as medical staff, exaggerating positive effects of treatments and then prescribing expensive drugs.
The court in Beijing's Chaoyang district sentenced the 15 people to jail sentences ranging from 19 months to more than two years, the official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday.
The issue of hospital-based fraud flared up in January when a woman in Beijing posted a video denouncing other scalpers for buying up "tickets" often needed to ensure an appointment with a doctor and then inflating the price to re-sell them to patients.
Chinese patients contend with a creaking healthcare system which suffers from a shortage of doctors, snarling queues to see medical workers, and a huge disparity between urban and rural care that drives many patients from villages and the countryside to hospitals in big cities.
The Beijing court said on its official microblog that the 15 people had illegally rented consulting rooms at large hospitals and then lured in patients with fake credentials and prescribed them expensive traditional Chinese medicines.
It said the people had swindled over 60 patients and raked in tens of thousands of dollars in profit through the scheme.
China is trying to reform its healthcare system, looking to encourage more private investment in hospitals to take some of the pressure off overloaded state hospitals.
However, despite the talk of reform, industry insiders say the drive is being stalled because of a lack of real support by Beijing and other obstacles to making changes to China's huge, fragmented public healthcare sector.
Reforms to reduce hospitals' reliance on drug sales also faces a revolt from doctors who argue this will take away a key revenue stream at a time when medical staff are overworked, underpaid and often violently abused by angry patients.