By Peter Stevenson
NEW hospital fees introduced last August brought in about €12m to state coffers in the first five months of the plan, according to a progress report handed to the Troika of international lenders. The report also indicates that demand for services offered by state hospitals and clinics had decreased since the introduction of certain fees.
But the new amount raised should also play like music to the ears of Health Minister Petros Petrides who said earlier this week that introducing the much-delayed national health scheme was hampered by a set-up cost of €90m, a target which may now seem more reachable than before.
According to the progress report, some €12m had been collected from last August to the start of this year following the decision to deduct 1.5 per cent from contributions by civil servants and retired public servants on their pensions.
According to Aigli Constantinou, a senior accountant at the Health Ministry, €2m is collected every month from active and retired civil servants through their contributions to the health sector.
Since August, all patients at state-run outpatient clinics must pay €3 to visit a general practitioner and €6 for a specialist.
Patients must also pay at least 50 cents for every prescribed medicine and for any laboratory tests with €10 being the ceiling for a prescription or lab test. Patients are also obliged to pay a €10 fee at the accident and emergency (A&E) department.
“The introduction of the €10 fee for the A&E and the introduction of a fee for lab tests and medicine has brought in an extra €3m,” Constantinou said. Of these, €1.9m was raised from fees on lab tests and medicine and €1m from A&E visits.
The senior accountant added that the introduction of these fees has also caused a decrease in demand of these services.
Statistics obtained from Nicosia and Famagusta General Hospitals between August and the end of December last year regarding lab tests and medicines show a decrease in demand of 11 to 13 per cent in Nicosia and 22 per cent in Famagusta.
“The decrease in demand for A&E services decreased by 22 to 34 per cent, depending on the hospitals,” she said.
The increase in fees paid at outpatient clinics and other hospital services saw a rise but there was a decrease in demand of those services.
According to the report, visits to outpatient clinics decreased by 10 to 15 per cent, except Paphos General Hospital which showed a decrease of around 20 per cent.
The total amount of revenue during 2013 came to around €11.5m while in 2012 and 2011 those amounts had totalled €8m and €7.5m, respectively.
“The statistics suggest that the increase in patient fees could affect the accessibility of patients to health care,” the report said.
It added that “as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said, it is widely accepted that the implementation of fees can make healthcare less affective and negatively impact on peoples’ health both in the short and long term.”
The report also states that in order to prevent any future damage to peoples’ health from the introduction of the new modified system, the Health Ministry will be evaluated by the WHO, in order to evaluate and analyse the likely impact on health services in Cyprus.
Such studies have been carried out in other EU countries with similar economic conditions.