By Peter Stevenson
THE NATIONAL Health Scheme (NHS) will not now be fully implemented until mid-2016, Health Minister Petros Petrides said on Monday.
Finally implementing the long-awaited NHS – Cyprus is the only EU member without one – was part of the deal the government signed with the troika of international lenders as part of the bailout agreement last year. Under the deal, Cyprus was supposed to offer a national healthcare scheme in 2015. After discussion with the troika, that date has now been pushed back. Implementation will begin in mid 2015 and be completed a year later.
“There is no hiding from the fact that we have been called to apply the NHS during extremely adverse economic conditions which has created additional problems,” Petrides told a press conference on Monday.
He said the NHS would not be implemented just for the sake of it as the scheme must be both viable and functional.
“The health ministry has asked for the opinion of various international organisations like the World Bank, The World Health Organisation and the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” he said.
Their opinion, Petrides said, was that implementing the NHS during the current economic crisis could have negative social and economic consequences.
“International organisations believe that applying a universal NHS could increase state and national health expenditure which would be detrimental to the economy right now,” he said.
They also believe that it could also cause serious problems to the job market as implementing the NHS will mean an increase in taxes, he said.
Petrides said that gradually implementing the NHS would ensure its economic viability and that this was a stance shared by the troika.
“Full implementation of the NHS has been moved to mid 2016 and has been recorded as a condition of the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the troika. To proceed with the NHS we must be sure the economy can handle it. We must be sure that any risks of high short-term costs from applying the scheme will be avoided,” he said.
The health minister said that salaries in Cyprus have fallen by 6.5 per cent and it would be a big risk to further reduce salaries by introducing new taxes.
Before the NHS is brought in a method of taxation will need to be introduced to protect financially and socially vulnerable groups he said.
Petrides said that even though it may appear that the government is preparing the public for more delays in implanting the NHS that it was not the case.
“It doesn’t matter if the NHS is introduced in mid 2015 or the beginning of 2016 or in mid 2016,” he said. “The president and the health ministry’s main aim is to implement a viable, functional and socially fair scheme.”