Problems in the public healthcare sector should not be exaggerated and exploited for political purposes every time that elections are near, health minister Giorgos Pamboridis has said, hitting back at critics decrying the shortage of specialist doctors.
He was primarily responding to accusations from the election campaign office of presidential candidate Nicolas Papadopoulos, alleging that the state health sector is in disarray due to the drain of doctors who move into the more lucrative private sector.
One example cited by Papadopoulos were the recent departures of doctors from the Specialised Breast Cancer Centre at the Nicosia general hospital.
In a statement, the minister claimed that not only had the number of physicians not decreased, they had in fact gone up.
There were currently over 800 doctors serving in the public sector, and 60 had been hired recently.
Moreover, Pamboridis said, doctors as well as nurses would be getting salary bumps in 2018 and 2019.
“And this is a tangible response to the exaggerations and accusations being made about this sector,” he noted.
The chief problem in public healthcare, according to the minister, is not the lack of financial incentives, but rather the antiquated mode of operation which the government is hoping to change with the gradual introduction of the National Health Scheme (NHS).
But for the NHS to work, all stakeholders need to get on board with the government’s “bold steps,” he added.
“The year 2018 should be the year of the major changes in structures, procedures and practices in public hospitals.”
Taking a swipe at Papadopoulos, the minister said “certain people remember public healthcare only when elections are around the corner.
“They are rushing to predict the closure of the breast centre, but rest assured that we shall not do them the favour,” he said.
More flak meanwhile came from main opposition Akel, which in a statement said public hospitals were “on the verge of collapse.”
This was being attested to by the patients themselves.
The government should therefore stop using the upcoming elections as an excuse to deflect criticism, since the problem of staff shortages is not a new one.
“The responsibilities of the administration of Nicos Anastasiades and Disy for the poor state of public healthcare are great. That is why they should be punished in the coming presidential elections,” the Akel statement added.
Weighing in, Sotiris Koumas, head of state doctors union (Pasyki), said doctors had repeatedly raised the issue of understaffing over the past two years.
He questioned the number of state doctors quoted by the minister.
By the union’s latest count, said Koumas, there were about 760 doctors in the public sector.
And whereas it was true that 60 doctors had been hired recently, the minister had omitted to mention that these individuals were replacements for doctors who had either resigned or retired.
Asked whether the minister was lying about the numbers, Koumas conjectured that perhaps the minister was receiving misleading information from subordinates.
According to Koumas, in some cases specialist doctors who serve at two different medical centres are counted twice by ministry bureaucrats, and this could account for the inflated numbers cited by the ministry.