By Angelos Anastasiou
THE Council of Ministers on Wednesday approved the universal digitisation of public healthcare services and a roadmap for the implementation of the National Health Scheme (NHS), prompting calls of sidelining the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO), an independent body mandated with implementing and administering the scheme.
Speaking after the cabinet meeting, Health minister Philippos Patsalis said that these decisions marked the introduction of the NHS and kicked off the full reorganisation of the healthcare system.
He explained that the move to digitisation – or ‘electronic health’ – relates to introducing computerised systems in all public healthcare facilities, through which all medical services will be administered.
“Electronic medical files, electronic prescribing, electronic test imaging like MRI scans, clinical exams” are but a few of the areas to be impacted, according to the Health minister.
A pilot version of the programme had been implemented at the Nicosia and Famagusta general hospitals, producing “great efficiency and serious cost savings,” Patsalis said.
The decision calls for the outsourcing of electronic systems in all public healthcare facilities.
The cabinet decision noted that the current system costs the Health ministry an annual €1.6m, with an added cost of €230,000 relating to the current bureaucracy at the Pharmaceutical Services department.
The proposed digitisation will merge the cost of all public healthcare facilities to a single figure. The current healthcare system at all public facilities is expected to cost an average €6m, while the planned computerised system is budgeted at €3.6m a year.
The second decision kicks off implementation of the NHS and restructuring the entire health system – including the HIO and the Health ministry.
“This includes the roadmap to implementing the NHS, and the 200 or so actions within the next three years that are time-specific, which will overhaul the health system radically and through which the NHS will be implemented,” Patsalis said.
It also includes the creation of a core implementation and reform team within the Health ministry, as well as a wider implementation and reform team from other government services.
“These were Troika requirements and are the first deliverables with regard to NHS implementation,” Patsalis said.
The offhand remark on reorganising the HIO, along with the ministry’s apparent takeover of NHS implementation, has led to speculation that the organisation is being sidelined and its role demoted.
Opposition party AKEL, which has long accused the government of attempting to introduce private insurance companies into the closed, single-insurer NHS, jumped at the opportunity to attack the government.
“We have repeatedly warned that the government is planning to sell-off healthcare to a handful of private interests,” it said in a statement. “Toward this aim, it plans to unilaterally and arbitrarily isolate and remove the HIO from the design and implementation of the NHS.”
“The DISY government is once again attempting, at the expense of the public and citizens, to promote a few powerful private interests hiding behind insurance companies,” it charged.