Why this story matters:
For the past 17 years, kidney transplants in Romania were available only to the rich and powerful, prosecutors claim. To Romanians, this is yet another alarm bell showing that corruption in the public health care system continues to put patients’ lives at risk.
Just before Christmas, prosecutors arrested one of country’s best-known transplant surgeons, Mihai Lucan, accused of fraud. Allegedly, he would use equipment and staff from a public hospital, which he was in charge of, to operate on patients in his private clinic.
The patients were diagnosed and admitted for surgery at the state clinic but then advised to seek surgery in Lucan’s private hospital, where they had to pay for surgeries. They were then transferred back to the public hospital for recovery.
Moreover, transplant lists were allegedly ignored, with several politicians and celebrities operated on before other urgent cases.
When the case emerged, Romanians were already frustrated after several big corruption and malpractice scandals in the public health system over the past 2 years.
As a result of one of them, prosecutors found that, for 6 years, most hospitals in Romania received diluted disinfectants, which did not kill bacteria but made it more resistant to medication. The investigators claimed that most public officials in the Ministry of Health knew about it but did nothing. Hence, hundreds, possibly thousands of patients might have died or fallen ill after a hospital treatment.
In December 2016 we learned about another case. A journalistic investigation revealed that one of Romania’s most revered pediatric orthopedists had experimented on children for decades, while other doctors, medical staff and even some patients kept silent.
In a yet another case, some 30 people are under arrest for allegedly embezzling 3 million euros between January 2016 and August 2017. High-ranking officials fabricated medical records for patients in order to claim insurance money. As a result, some patients were denied treatment because they already had fake records of it.
We could list such examples for days. However, urologist Mihai Lucan’s case seems, somehow, more outrageous. An acclaimed surgeon, frequent guest on TV, recipient of the greatest national distinction, Romania’s Star, had allegedly run a fraud scheme for 17 years.
From 2000 until 2017 he was the head of the Romanian Urology and Kidney Transplant Institute in the city of Cluj. He resigned in April 2017, months after the then Health Minister, Vlad Voiculescu, ordered an internal investigation into Romanian transplant clinics.
For decades, such investigations were rare. Although everybody knew, nobody talked about it openly. The medical staff feared losing their jobs, the patients -- being refused treatment if they complained.
Lucan’s lawyers claim there is no proof to sustain the prosecutors’ accusations. The anti-graft investigators said their case is based on scores of testimonies from employees and patients.
After the Lucan case made headlines in the media, former minister Voiculescu, who runs MagiCamp, an NGO that provides support for children cancer patients and their families, very aptly summarized the situation:
“Hundreds, maybe thousands of Romanians died while on waiting lists for [translplants], probably hoping for a miracle. Others lived only because they borrowed money, sold their house, car or a cow.” Voiculescu wrote on his Facebook account.
Details from the story:
- In December 2017, Romanian anticorruption prosecutors arrested one of the country’s most acclaimed surgeons, due to fraud accusations.
- The surgeon allegedly embezzled 1 million euros from the Cluj Napoca-based National Urology Institute while he ran the institution from 2000-2017.
- The investigation started after the surgeon resigned from his position and a Romanian MP who worked for the transplant institute filed an official complaint against him.
- In November 2016, the Ministry of Health's internal investigation revealed irregularities in spending public funds in four hospitals as well as the Romanian Transplant Agency.
- Romania’s health system has been shaken by corruption and malpractice scandals in the past two years.