GUANGZHOU/BEIJING - Beijing is struggling to deal with an increasingly violent flashpoint of social unrest in its healthcare system, as its latest bid to cut costs is failing to ease tensions among millions of people who cannot afford basic treatment.

Violent attacks directed at hospital doctors and other healthcare workers in the form of beatings, threats, kidnappings, verbal abuse and even killings soared in recent years to 17,243 cases in 2010, alarming central policymakers who regard China's overhaul of its lumbering public healthcare system a top national priority.

Critics say China's efforts to cut treatment costs in public hospitals and defuse tensions do not go far enough and show little sign of reversing the violence of angry sufferers.

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