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Our View: Even the latest NHS deadline of 2017 is optimistic

THE PUTTING back of the introduction of the National Health Scheme has become a frequent occurrence. Every few months the health minister announces a new, later, date for its start. Even the troika, which had been pressuring for its introduction, appears to have become resigned to the fact that it will not happen before the end of the assistance programme.

The new date for the commencement of the first phase of the scheme, announced at the House health committee by Health Minister Philippos Patsalis on Thursday, is now January 2017; the second phase is scheduled for the beginning of May of that year. Only a few months ago it was scheduled to start in 2016, but now the plan has changed. On Thursday the minister urged deputies to approve the bill that would make each hospital an autonomous entity, independent of the health ministry, before the summer break.

Patsalis explained that the hospitals needed to be autonomous entities in January – this was a pre-requisite for the implementation of the scheme – which was why approval of the legislation was a matter of urgency. But even if the bill was approved, the minister is being very optimistic in believing management staff would be recruited, new organisational structures put in place and budgets approved among other things before the end of the year. Nothing works so fast when the state bureaucrats are running the show.

We should only look at the snail’s pace at which the Organisation of Health Insurance (HIO) has been working to realise that even 2017 is optimistic. The HIO has been in existence since 2006, employs a significant number of people and has yet to complete the groundwork for the scheme. According to Patsalis, the HIO hopes to publish an invitation for tenders for the design of the software and database by the end of this month in the hope that the system would be ready before May 2017. What is the likelihood of the system being ready by this deadline, given that the public sector never runs a tenders procedure that does not end up in the Supreme Court for a year or two?

The other question is why were so many years needed to prepare a tenders procedure? What happened to the one that was held some four years ago? There was an appeal against it and it ended up in the Supreme Court, but this still does not explain why it took another four years before a new one was prepared. Has the toying with the idea of allowing private insurance firms to participate in the scheme caused the delays or was it just because the public sector is incapable of working with any efficiency?

We have always expressed doubts about the ability of the state to plan and implement a project as complex as a National Health Scheme and from what we have witnessed so far these doubts are more than justified.

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