Doctors charged over 'killing for kickbacks'

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The Independent Online

Polish prosecutors investigating claims that ambulance workers in the city of Lodz might have killed patients in exchange for bribes said yesterday they had charged two doctors with failing to assist 18 seriously ill people who subsequently died.

Polish prosecutors investigating claims that ambulance workers in the city of Lodz might have killed patients in exchange for bribes said yesterday they had charged two doctors with failing to assist 18 seriously ill people who subsequently died.

The investigation was launched after claims in Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's biggest newspaper, in January that some crews might have delayed ambulance arrivals or administered drugs that killed patients in exchange for kickbacks from funeral parlours. It was also claimed that emergency services had been giving the funeral homes early tip-offs about deaths.

The day after the claims were made, calls to ambulances in Lodz dropped by half. "We are all shocked by these crimes, which are hard to imagine," President Aleksander Kwasniewski said.

About 40 people, including ambulance and funeral home staff, have been charged with taking bribes.

Jolanta Badziak, a spokes-woman for the Lodz prosecutors' office, said the two doctors, both of whom worked for the city ambulance service, had been charged with "failing to assist patients despite their condition – which indicated that they unquestionably needed help – and the doctors' obligation to do so, thus endangering lives".

Ms Badziak said 70 cases in which patients died during or shortly after a visit by Lodz ambulance staff had been examined, with the investigators concluding that 18 of the deaths were suspicious. They still have another 200 cases to examine.

She refused to elaborate on how the doctors, who could face up to five years in prison if convicted, had failed to assist.

The suspects were not named. Boguslaw Tyka, the head of the Lodz provincial ambulance service, said he would ask prosecutors to disclose their identities so they could be suspended, if they were still employed.

While the allegations in Lodz, Poland's second largest city, were the most serious, investigations of suspected bribery by ambulance staff are under way in about a dozen other cities.

State first-aid officials have acknowledged the system is prone to corruption. They blame low pay for government-employed medical workers and a lack of laws regulating competition among funeral homes for state-paid funerals.

Media reports say ambulance crews that tip off funeral homes get kickbacks of 800 zlotys (£180) a body, nearly a third of the monthly salary of a typical Lodz ambulance doctor.

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