FOR YEARS, when a person was suffering from an illness that could not be treated in Cyprus the government would pay the medical costs of treatment abroad. But because the system was being abused and many decisions were influenced by rusfeti, the state set up a committee, consisting primarily of doctors, to examine every application for treatment abroad and decide whether to approve it.
There was also legislation governing treatment abroad, but the first to ignore it were the politicians. There was a health minister of the Clerides government who, scandalously, had a knee operation abroad, simply because he could ignore the law and a former party leader who went to a London hospital for a kidney transplant despite the fact that Cyprus had a top quality kidney transplant clinic.
Health ministers, meanwhile, often used their discretionary powers to sanction treatment abroad, either out of the goodness of their heart or as a political favour. Sending patients abroad had become lucrative business with foreign hospitals having agents in Cyprus taking commission for every patient they sent to them. One health minister that served under two presidents was notorious for sending patients abroad, even if treatment was available in Cyprus, on the grounds that it was more economical.
There have been some attempts by governments to put procedures in place, making the approval of the medical council a requirement for releasing funds, but the health minister may still have the discretionary power to issue a different decision. The issue was back in the news a couple of weeks ago after a CyBC employee received treatment in London, without approval from the medical council, but insisted the state paid the £13,000 bill.
The health minister said this was out of the question because two medical councils had ruled she could have received the treatment in Cyprus, but after a few articles critical of the government in the press and a public plea by the president of the journalists’ union to President Anastasiades, the latter overruled everyone and sanctioned the payment of the bill by the state.
Is this how abuses of the system will stop? By the president ignoring state procedures decisions of state bodies and the law in order to show that he is compassionate and caring? The president should be the first person in Cyprus to show respect for the law and state procedures, instead of sanctioning an unlawful expenditure by the state. What is the point of having any rules or procedures, when the Head of State shows such blatant disregard for them, in order to get some positive publicity?
Anastasiades’ decision was not a show of kindness as he may have thought, but an indication that he considers himself to be above the law. And that is unacceptable.