By Elias Hazou
HEALTH minister Petros Petrides has ordered an inquiry into allegations by state doctors at Nicosia General Hospital that they are being cheated out of overtime pay for on-call work.
Petrides told the Mail that the ministry has got in touch with the hospital’s accounts department to investigate the allegations.
The doctors claim the accounts department at Nicosia General has been logging fewer hours of on-call work than they actually carried out, thereby reducing what they’re entitled to for overtime work.
Under the current system, if a doctor responds to calls that are half an hour apart, then these are logged as separate calls and the doctor receives overtime pay accordingly. Where two calls occur within less than half an hour between them, these are registered as a single call.
What the doctors are claiming is that the hospital’s accounts department has been ‘cheating’ them by logging separate calls as occurring every one hour, not every 30 minutes – resulting in fewer calls registered per doctor and therefore less overtime pay.
It remains to be seen how credible the allegations are. Phileleftheros, which reported the story yesterday, said the doctors spotted the discrepancy only last week, even though – again according to the doctors – the funny business has allegedly been going on for the last five years.
The state doctors’ union PASYKI could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But other industry sources, wishing not to be named, brushed off the doctors’ claims as absurd.
“Let’s entertain their allegations for a second. If they are being cheated, as they claim, then it must also follow that they were putting in an inordinate amount of on-call duty,” they said.
The sources explained: “Say you’re a doctor… it takes you maybe half an hour alone to drive to the hospital after you get a call. OK, so how many incidents did you respond to? Did you spend the whole day at the hospital? If so, that’s fishy.”
Depending on their specialty, there’s a ceiling on the number of hours that state doctors can clock for overtime work. Pathologists for example can claim a maximum of five hours per day.
PASYKI and the health minister have been engaged in a very public spat over overtime pay as the ministry wants to drastically reduce it. The ministry is proposing a standard payment for overtime, better patient management so as state surgeons can operate on more patients and limiting the categories of specialties that are paid overtime to two.
There are 15 different overtime pay scales, depending on doctors’ specialties.
Year after year, the Auditor-general has zeroed in on the abuse of overtime pay in the civil service, including the health sector.
In her 2012 annual report, the official noted some cases where state doctors clocked in up to 14 hours of overtime work per day, over and above their normal timetable. On certain occasions, the annual overtime pay for individual physicians exceeded €70,000.
The Auditor-general has also been advising an update of the regulations governing overtime; the current regulations date back to 2001.
PASYKI is complaining about the funds allocated in the 2014 budget to cover overtime pay for state doctors. The ministry’s budget for overtime this year is €6.5m, down from €7.8m in 2013. The doctors’ union is asking for €8m.
The minister has said that an overhaul of the overtime system is provided for in the bailout agreement between Cyprus and its international creditors.
The MoU with the troika calls on authorities here to “further reduce overtime and related costs to the wage bill” and to “revise the regular working hours and stand-by shifts of healthcare staff, including rules to increase the mobility of staff; revise current regulations on overtime pay and fully implement existing laws on recording/monitoring overtime payments by Q1-2014.”