-Analysis-

BEIJING — There's a new trend in China's public hospitals: "stewardess nurses," sporting smart uniforms, pretty faces and nice airs while providing services such as greeting people with smiles at the entrance, offering cups of water or opening the elevator door for patients.

Such hospital "innovation" is supposed to provide patients with better service. Yet where a flight attendant learns a whole set of rigorous rules and regulations, and is part of a bona fide security profession, stewardess nurses receive just 10 days of training. More to the point, while China's health reform needs real medicine, patients are getting fed a flight attendant image campaign instead.

The airline stewardess indeed holds a unique image in modern Chinese society. Some governmental departments even make their cleaning ladies wear stewardess clothing as a uniform. A dubious sign of the times within our political class.

The idea to staff hospitals with these figures is also simply a huge waste of public money. Apart from the uniforms and the training of these hostesses, human resources and maintenance costs are being thrown away. We have to ask what is the official motivation behind this.

Care for the nurses

The Chinese government has been promoting medical reform for a long time without actually achieving much. Public hospitals spend so much energy and resources promoting such shallow marketing gimmicks that could have been used to make real changes to their core mission of curing the sick.

To start with, instead of employing women in smart clothes who have no training, nurses should be given better rights and working conditions. Why not simply increase the number of actual nurses in hospitals so they don't have to attend to so many unsatisfied patients?

Violent doctor-patient conflicts resulting in the murder of doctors have been a serious issue in China's hospitals in recent years. Most agree that nurses are uniquely positioned to help resolve small disputes, and help to keep conflicts from turning violent.

Solving the doctor-patient problem with stewardess nurses is like prescribing the wrong medicine for a malady. What Chinese hospitals need is to raise their diagnostic quality, enhance their medical care, and maintain responsibility and service levels to win back the confidence of the nation's patients.

Chinese hospitals' structural reform should be focused on management, personnel and regulation. Even while increasing public investment, the hospitals' corporate autonomy should also be improved with the goal of establishing much more modern hospital management. This would help eliminate the current tendency of Chinese hospitals to rely on the revenue from pharmaceutical sales to sustain their operations.

Undeniably, China's hospital reform involves too many competing interests, which makes it virtually impossible to rely on the hospitals themselves to figure out the reforms they need.

Still, stewardess nurses are clearly not the answer. Real nurses are so much more than their uniforms, and curing the poor image of China's hospitals will require long-term care.