The Ministry of Health has estimated that nearly 1,700 unlicensed clinics and private practices are operating throughout the Kingdom, and vowed to work harder to close them during an office meeting on Monday.
Health Minister Mam Bunheng said 1,368 unlicensed medical care providers were shuttered in 2015 in a Facebook post following the meeting.
He added that the remaining ones must be closed this year, and called on the public not to use unlicensed doctors in order to avoid the fate of more than 200 people in Battambang believed to have been infected with HIV by an unlicensed practitioner using dirty needles last year.
“We have to moderately extend our action to eliminate the unlicensed health services,” Bunheng wrote in his post.
This will be harder than it sounds with the ministry’s limited resources, especially in rural areas, according to a nurse practitioner based in Phnom Penh for about a decade.
The ministry frequently vowed to crack down on unlicensed clinics in the past but they persist outside cities.
“They would have to go street by street to find them,” said the nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Once [the inspectors] are gone, everything comes back out again.”
The quality of care at such clinics varies wildly, said the nurse. Patients frequently get unnecessary injections or have tobacco, fish sauce or perfume put on their burns or wounds, which makes them worse.
She added that even licensed clinics are under-regulated and standards are largely up to the ethics of the doctor in charge.
Ke Sovannaroth, the opposition party director of the National Assembly’s health committee, said that some unlicensed clinics are owned by health officials, making them tough to shutter.
“I support the action, but I ask for fair and effective measures,” she said.
Vicky Houssiere, a spokeswoman with the World Health Organization, said that the government should work on increasing public awareness of the importance of licensed care.
She suggested that licensed clinics could improve their hours of work, waiting times and staff availability.
According to the Health Ministry, there are over 10,000 small clinics throughout the country.
The Health Ministry yesterday also asked National and Military Police to intercept unlicensed ambulances.
The ministry said it had spotted many such vehicles in operation last year, masquerading as real ambulances and charging patients exorbitant sums, according to ministry secretary Te Kuyseang.
National Police spokesman Keat Chantharith and Military Police spokesman Eng Hy could not be reached for comment yesterday.