Experts are warning the government's medical hub policy could lead to a brain drain of staff from rural and state hospitals.
The policy was initiated in 2003 by the Thaksin Shinawatra administration and promotes private clinics which cater to foreigners seeking medical treatment.
Several doctors from rural areas criticised the plan during a recent meeting about the policy.
Ruethai Wattanavinit, the director of Chiang Kam hospital, located along the Thai-Lao border in Phayao province, said the development of a regional medical hub, despite having economic benefits, could pull staff from state hospitals to private hospitals which offer higher pay.
She said such a brain drain would cause staff shortages at border hospitals in particular.
"It is already difficult to find medical personnel to serve at border hospitals," she said.
Difficult living conditions and low pay are the key reasons for the challenges, she said.
The government should consider how the medical hub policy will harm people living in poverty, Dr Ruethai said, adding that those people should not be abandoned.
Jiraporn Limpananon, a member of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council (Nesac), said the government should divert capital gained from the private hospitals to state hospitals in rural areas.
The government should allocate at least 10% of earnings from the private medical hub scheme to the public health system, she said.
Ms Jiraporn said the extra funding should finance medical personnel training programmes and rural health care operations.
Boonruang Triruangworawat, director of the Health Service Support Department, said the government plans to collect more taxes from private medical services as a result of the medical hub policy.
Details of the policy are still being refined by the Public Health Ministry, but the taxes will be help fund state hospitals, particularly those in rural areas.
He said private clinics should be encouraged to contribute to the health care system through corporate social responsibility programmes.
Around 2.5 million foreigners came to Thailand this year for medical services, Dr Boonruang said. Those patients paid around 140 billion baht for their health care.
Under the plan, the number of foreign patients is expected to climb to 5 million in 2016, with health payments totalling around 800 billion baht.
Dr Boonruang said the government has eased regulations to make seeking treatment in Thailand more convenient for foreigners.
By the end of this month, patients from Middle Eastern countries will be allowed to stay in Thailand for three months without a visa.
Those patients will require a document issued by their hospital to verify their stay.
Patients from Japan, Scandinavian countries and the United States will gain similar privileges in coming years, he said.
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Writer: Paritta Wangkiat