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Our View: Hospital staff must be on board for NHS to go through

ALTHOUGH Health Minister Philippos Patsalis’ sense of urgency in pushing ahead with the national health scheme is commendable it might not be the best policy for such a complicated project that aims to radically reform healthcare. The urgency might not necessarily be the minister’s choice as the government has a memorandum obligation to prepare and submit to the legislature all the bills relating to scheme by early next month so they could be approved before the end of the year.

Deadlines invariably produce results, especially at government departments which are renowned for working at a very leisurely pace, but whether these would be the desired ones in this case is open to question. Putting together all the rules and regulations on how state hospitals would become autonomous entities with their own funding, arranging how specialist doctors would re-train as GPs, finalising the insurance scheme/data-base that would cover the whole population are just a few of the things that have to be prepared.

Then again, without deadlines the planning for the scheme, which started during the Clerides presidency and scores of people were hired to work exclusively on it during the Papadopoulos presidency, could take another 20 years to be finalised. And even then it might not be any better prepared than it would be in a month. As Patsalis’ said responding to the government doctors’ union which claimed it had not been given enough time to study the bills, “we have been discussing the scheme for 30 years.”

The minister had a point, but for such major project he needs to have the staff on side. The chances of a smooth transition to the new system would be greatly diminished if the doctors and nurses that would make it work were not on side. Then again, moaning and protesting against change is part of the public sector culture, especially when the pampered employees suspect that their many work privileges at risk.

On Monday the state hospital doctors held a two-hour work stoppage in protest against the very little time they would be given to study the new terms and conditions under which they would work; they also were voicing demands about overtime pay, opening of promotions and the protection of contract doctors. Yesterday nursing union members protested outside the legislature demanding higher entry pay, the appointment of more nurses and the safeguarding of their status as ‘public servants’ under the new scheme.

Patsalis has tried to appease them by giving assurances that their pay, benefits and pensions would not be affected, even though they would no longer be employed by the state, but it is doubtful that this is the end of the squabbling. We suspect the big public rows will begin when the doctors’ and nurses’ union will read the bills that define their duties and responsibilities under the health scheme. The minister should have a strategy for dealing with the inevitable protests, because the hospital staff must be on side for the scheme to have a chance of working.

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