By Poly Pantelides
ALL OF the islands hospitals have reported a significant fall in the number of outpatient visits since the introduction of new charges on August 1 this year.
According to the data, Limassol hospital saw 11,023 outpatients between August 1 and mid-September last year, but this fell to 8,351 in the same period this year following the new measures.
Paphos hospital reported a bigger drop from 8,790 to 5,835 for the same periods, while Nicosia hospital saw 15,228 visits last year between August and mid-September, but 12,033 in the same period this year.
Health Minister Petros Petrides said yesterday the new charges, including the flat €10 fee for visits to the Accident and Emergency Departments, were not intended as means to bring in millions in revenue but were implemented to prevent abuse, particularly of the A&E system, and also in reducing waste in the pharmaceuticals department.
Petrides was yesterday summarising the first seven months of his term as health minister. He said the island’s hospitals had been accommodating a growing number of people in recent years due to the financial crisis.
He had inherited a ministry which oversaw over two million outpatient visits in the island’s hospital in 2011 – the latest available data – compared with 1.8 million in 2009.
In addition to seeing more day visitors, hospitals had been stretched to the limit, and that was before the banking crisis in March this year, and the growing number of patients turning to state care in 2012.
On average in 2011, some 92.4 per cent of hospital beds were occupied at any given moment across Cyprus’ hospitals, compared with 85.9 per cent in 2010, and 85.6 in 2009. The average length of stay was 5.3 days in 2011, down from 5.4 in 2010, and 5.6 in 2009, which means patients are being sent home sooner.
Authorities have introduced a number of changes this year, as part of their obligations to international lenders, including raising the hospital fees and introducing disincentives for abusing the overburdened system.
Petrides said the changes being made to the health system as agreed with the troika were “a one-way street”.
He said in 2011 the cost of healthcare was around €600 million, or around 3.2 per cent of GDP. “In the coming years from 2014 to 2016, the ministry of health is required to provide services and meet needs with a reduced budget of around 12 per cent,” he added.
“Sound management and effective control are modern tools in management and help to promote transparency and efficiency,” he said.
“We all know that the original provisions of the (troika) memorandum were worse, but after a lot of effort and struggle we managed to mitigate and protect vulnerable sections of the population,” said Petrides.
Among the challenges lying ahead, the biggest would be the enormous task of setting up a national health scheme by 2015 and talks are taking place in earnest to get everything done on time, Petrides said.
But an EU cross-border directive is also coming into effect in late October. “The health ministry is ready to implement [the directive],” Perides said.
Under the cross-border directive, patients will be able to get healthcare elsewhere in the EU that is equivalent to the health care they are entitled at home, whether free or paid.
Patients will need to pay for the treatment up front, get a receipt and request reimbursement back home, if entitled. Cyprus authorities will pay back what the equivalent treatment costs at home, so if treatment costs more, the patient will have to absorb the difference.
EU travellers can already receive emergency or immediately necessary treatment in the rest of the EU by getting a European health insurance card, but cannot use the card to receive medical care otherwise.
Meanwhile, the health ministry is continuing to digitise its systems, with a view to cross-connect with other services and automate some processes. This includes a surgery waiting list in Nicosia hospital, and digitising a watchdog mechanism for infectious diseases to harness better statistics.