German doctors shaken by corruption allegations

Michael Cook
19 January 2013
Reproduced with Permission

The German Medical Association has investigated nearly 1,000 cases of corrupt doctors over the past few years, according to its president, Frank Ulrich Montgomery.

Dr Montgomery told Der Spiegel that more than half of the case involved alleged bribes from an Israeli pharmaceutical company, Ratiopharm. The doctors were paid for prescribing its drugs to their patients. This was "clearly prohibited", says Dr Montgomery.

"The Medical Association punished 163 Ratiopharm doctors after state prosecutors made the files available to us," said Montgomery. He wants the government to pass legislation which would permit the Medical Association itself to conduct searches and confiscate files.

However, this is opposed by health insurance companies. "Corruption is not a minor offence which doctors can regulate amongst themselves," said an industry spokesman.

Montgomery's comments highlight a crisis in the German medical profession which has become so dramatic that a legislation has been mooted to beef up professional ethics. "This ongoing corruption debate is a thorn in our flesh which is massively damaging the reputation of my profession," Montgomery told Der Spiegel.

The problem is most acute for transplant surgeons. Two senior doctors in Leipzig have been suspended after an investigation showed that they had manipulated records to push 38 liver patients up the waiting list for organs. Similar cases have been reported in Göttingen, Munich and Regensburg.

The government and the Medical Association has reassured the public that corruption in the transplant waiting list has been eradicated. But the media seems convinced that public confidence in the integrity of the transplant system has been shaken. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The damage done is immense. That is obviously not just true of patients on the waiting list for donated organs who were cheated. That is also true of all patients who see themselves as being literally helpless. And it is true of donors, whose mistrust grows with each case of manipulation. The number of donor organs began dropping last year just as the first cases of deceit became public. Last but not least, such cases also hurt transplant doctors, whose own area of specialization has been plunged into disrepute. And the disappearance of trust in how livers, hearts and kidneys are handled hurts the standing of all doctors. As such, it is all the more in their interest to combat this growing damage to their image."