Cops hunt "cash for ops" surgeons

France - The country's health ministry is facing growing calls for a full public inquiry after allegations that surgeons have been demanding huge cash payments from patients keen to jump hospital waiting lists, and for charging exorbitant fees for "private" operations.

Photo: Cops hunt cash for ops surgeons

In some cases, the sums demanded have been up to 15 times higher than the tariff scale agreed by the Sécu, France’s social security system. Surgeons in the Paris area are alleged to have been running private practices so lucrative that they have pocketed up to ?500,000 a year, yet work only two half-days a week. One Parisian woman revealed that a surgeon asked for a cash payment from her 79-year-old husband when he was lying on the operating table.

The scandal surfaced when a retired factory worker from Chalon-sur-Saone, in the central Bourgogne region, blew the whistle on the ‘under-the-table’ payments after revealing that a heart surgeon had demanded ?5,000 to operate on him. So far, although it has begun an inquiry into the alleged incident, this surgeon’s professional association has stood by him. However, sources close to the Chalon area health authority (CPAM) revealed that it is considering legal action.
Now police across France are investigating other hospitals and clinics, after numerous patients have come forward with complaints about similar attempts at extortion and fraud by medical professionals. Some have alleged that they were asked to hand over two envelopes stuffed with cash – one for the surgeon and the other for the anaesthetist – in exchange for operations they were told could be carried out ‘without delay’.

A 46-year-old woman patient at a hospital in Metz-Thionville, in the north-east of the country, claimed that the chief heart surgeon demanded a cheque for ?3,000 after operating on her damaged heart valves.

She was also upset by the ‘poor standard of care’ she received. She said the surgeon failed to visit her until six days after her operation, that she was never clinically examined nor asked about her health.

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, has since complained to the regional health authority and also to the head of the hospital’s administration, who promised to hold an internal inquiry.

‘However,’ she said, ‘from the first, there has been no sign of life whatsoever. From the second, I am still waiting for a reply and an explanation after 10 weeks. This is not simply about the money – I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else.’

01.05.2007

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