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Our View: Interests of doctors once again put above those of patients

Health Minister Philippos Patsali at the meeting with PASYKI

ONE OF THE reasons state hospital doctors’ union Pasyki had threatened to stage a strike today was because its demand for a review of overtime pay had not been satisfied. Overtime pay had been significantly cut last year as part of the government drive to reduce state spending but the doctors have been agitating for a return to the more lucrative old regime ever since.

Now it seems health minister Philippos Patsalis, who needs them on side for the eventual implementation of the national health system, has given in to the doctors. Yesterday afternoon the two sides met at the minister’s office to sign an agreement that was to result in the calling off of the strike. One of the three provisions of the agreement was the review of overtime work by doctors which said: “Within a period of 15 days, the study prepared by the governing council of Pasyki and Deloitte (the auditing firm) and submitted to the health ministry will be put into practice retroactively from 1/1/2015. In the event of the opposite happening, strike measures will automatically return.”

The union’s blackmail was put in writing. It is also fascinating that the so-called dialogue on which unions have always insisted has been suspended in this case, the ministry being obliged to implement the overtime regime drafted by the consultants hired by the union. The employer – in this case the health ministry – has no say in the matter, being obliged to implement the plan of the union’s paid consultants.

Patsalis gave in to the union on a range of issues to avoid the chaos that would be created by a strike at the hospitals. Yet the introduction of the national health scheme was an opportunity to redefine overtime work, which is currently a scheme designed for doctors to earn extra income at the expense of the taxpayer. Doctors work public service hours in hospitals and receive overtime for any work they do after 3pm (the same applies to nurses, policemen, customs officials etc).

This was an opportunity to introduce the shift system to hospitals so that departments would remain open in the afternoons as well instead of patients having to visit the emergency ward after 3pm. There could have been an allowance for night shifts and work on Sundays or public holidays. This would have ended overtime pay once and for all and made hospitals more efficient as doctors would have no incentive to schedule operations in the afternoon so as to collect overtime.

But the government is too cowardly to take on public sector unions so we will carry on having hospitals that put the interests of their employees above those of the patients.

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