Chinese health authorities put a hospital president on probation and fired three other supervisors following public outrage over photos posted online of smiling medical staff posing with patients in the middle of surgery.

The photos were taken in August at privately owned Fengcheng Hospital in the north-central city of Xi'an and leaked on social media over the weekend. Online commentators criticized medical staff for being unprofessional and disrespectful of patients, while others defended the photos, saying they were intended to be private and were taken at the end of surgical procedures.

Tensions have run high between health workers and patients in China. Patients often complain about poor medical services and high costs, especially the need to bribe doctors and nurses in exchange for competent services. Chinese health workers say they are overworked, underpaid and underappreciated.

The Xi'an Bureau of Public Health, which handed out the punishment, said in a statement Sunday that the staff at Fengcheng took the photos to memorialize the operating room, which was to be relocated.

Nevertheless, the bureau said the picture-snapping violated proper medical procedures and had a negative social impact. It requested everyone involved in the photo scandal to offer "deep" self-criticisms. The bureau also put the hospital president on probation for one year and fired a deputy president, the head nurse and the person in charge of anesthetics.

The bureau also demanded that the hospital issue an open apology and rectify its management to avoid similar incidents in the future.