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Our View: Is creation of an NHS beyond the capabilities of Cypriot authorities?

TROIKA technocrats, who met health ministry officials on Wednesday to discuss the progress being made in the preparations for the introduction of the national health scheme, should have taken note of what was going on at Nicosia General Hospital.

The night before, the hospital’s emergency department was unable to cope with the influx of patients some of whom had to be turned away. And this was part of a wider problem – there were not enough beds in the hospital to admit patients so some had to wait in emergency for 24 hours while others who arrived for scheduled surgery could not be admitted because there were no beds.

This was an illustration that the health system could not cope with the demand for care and another argument for speeding up the introduction of the health scheme. However, according to the latest reports, the introduction of the health scheme, the first stage of which was scheduled for implementation in June could be put back a year, because of administrative delays.

Apparently the software which is critical for the operation of the scheme would not be ready by June because the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO) is still involved in consultations with the companies that will provide tenders. Effort to put in the final order for the software have been going on for about four years, but have been repeatedly stalled by legal appeals against the tenders’ procedure which is common practice in Cyprus.

The HIO is also involved in ongoing negotiations with the doctors about their pay and charges. These are unlikely to be completed any time soon given that the doctors want the whole system to operate on their terms. Meanwhile, nursing staff have also been demanding that they go into the new system with the same work conditions, while on Wednesday PASYDY announced that they would file an appeal against the government decision to dock 1.5 per cent from the monthly wage of public servants to cover the healthcare they were being provided for free. Obviously PASYDY does not want its members to pay for the national health scheme and is taking pre-emptive action.

It is all a big mess and health minister Philippos Patsalis has not helped things by centralising all the decision-making. This has meant he has had to deal with everything from strike threats by doctors to the problems at the emergency departments. Even the HIO, which was initially an independent service has been placed under the authority of the ministry, at which officials have to have 10 meetings and exchange dozens of memos before they take a decision about the most trivial thing.

The Troika is probably losing patience and could eventually conclude that the establishment of a complex system of universal healthcare would be beyond the capabilities of the Cypriot authorities.

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