In November 2017, activists and groups in concern of pneumoconiosis workers burst into an uproar as three doctors of Guizhou Aerospace Hospital was accused of “mal-diagnosis of pneumoconiosis” and prosecuted by local Public Security Bureau for “dereliction of duty of personnel of state-owned enterprises”. Within the 6 months after the arrest, the case was returned to the prosecutor department twice for reinvestigation, and is now in its third round of prosecution.
Chinese government’s suppression on the three doctors, Wang Heng-ping, Zhang Xiao-bo and Dong You-rui, started as early as August 2016, when Dr Wang Heng-ping and another doctor Luo Jing-song was arrested by the Public Security Bureau of Sui Yang County of Zun Yi Prefecture for criminal causes and put on bail pending a trial. The pending prosecution was not relieved until August 2017. During the period, the Public Security Bureau retrieved records of 1353 pneumoconiosis patients for investigation. Dr Wang Heng-ping was arrested again by the Zun Yi government in June 2017 for crime of fraud, and released on bail in July pending trial. He was then prosecuted for “dereliction of duty of personnel of state-owned enterprises” on 1 November. In October, Dr Zhang Xiao-bo and Dr Dong You-rui was also arrested for “dereliction of duty of personnel of state-owned companies, enterprises and institutions”, and put on bail on the next day. On 24 November, they were also prosecuted for “dereliction of duty of personnel of state-owned enterprises”. On 23 June 2018, the three doctors were released on bail after 7 months in jail. The case was not closed yet.
The public security re-examined X-ray films of 547 records from the 1353 retrieved records and reconfirmed 42 pneumoconiosis cases. The 92.3% diagnostic difference was said to be personal errors of the three doctors which caused wastage of RMB 30 million social security fund, and thus the cause of “dereliction of duty of personnel of state-owned enterprises”. However, according to doctors’ training material in mainland China, mistakes in reading X-ray film of pneumoconiosis range between 18.8 – 33.2%, which is a difficult diagnostic item. The 505 records found to be mis-diagnosed constitute 30.7% of the 1640 records of the hospital, which is within the normal range of difference. Thus, doctors and patients’ families consider that the diagnostic errors are technical errors instead of human errors, and the doctors should not be penalized. The incident has brought additional burden to the workers with pneumoconiosis.
It has always been challenging for pneumoconiosis workers to defend their rights, as it was difficult for them to obtain diagnostic report of occupational disease. Employers have refuse or delayed provision of information, or provide incorrect information in the diagnostic process of occupational disease, which greatly reduce the chance for correct diagnosis by doctors or experts. Even if the final diagnosis confirms occupational pneumoconiosis, workers might have already accumulated heavy debts due to high medical costs over the long delay, and some of them might have passed away in the prolonged waiting. Doctors and experts would probably tend to be more conservative in diagnosing pneumoconiosis after this incident, which would greatly reduce the rate of occupational pneumoconiosis diagnosis since pneumoconiosis workers can only rely on the diagnostic report to claim work injury compensation or personal injury under the present legal provision. This would eventually result in serious damage to rights of pneumoconiosis workers.
While mal-practice of doctors to reap benefits by forging medical records should be severely punished, the fact that the case was returned twice to the prosecutor for re-investigation showed that the public security did not have substantial evidence in the prosecution and over 6-month detention of the three doctors. The incident is clearly a threat against the doctors to cut down number of diagnostic report of occupational pneumoconiosis, to protect the interest of the employers and reduce spending of occupational disease compensation at the expense of pneumoconiosis workers’ rights. If the pneumoconiosis workers’ right to reasonable compensation cannot be protected by the system, the incident of “open-chest examination” in 2009 might happen again. The government would eventually eat its own fruit in the outbreak of workers’ rage.