By Andria Kades
A replacement for Philippos Patsalis whose resignation as health minister was announced over the weekend is expected to be named by the end of this week, according to deputy spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos.
“We are waiting for the president to come back from abroad so we can see what we will do,” he said on Monday.
Sources close to Patsalis said they had not seen his move to resign coming but were not entirely surprised either, after cabinet decided to postpone approving the bill on hospital autonomy, which is strongly opposed in its present form by state health workers but is a crucial part of the proposed national health scheme.
Just hours before the cabinet meeting earlier this month, nurses union PASYNO called off their threatened 48-hour strike, saying that they had succeeded in forcing “President Nicos Anastasiades to take the initiative and withdraw the bill”.
Beforehand, Patsalis had warned that it was imperative MPs approved the bill before the summer recess because if momentum was lost Cyprus would not get a health scheme within 40 years. It appeared that pressure from unions forced the government to yield.
“The man was trying really hard. He focused a lot on the national health scheme, really followed through with it and after all his hard work and getting threatened by the unions…they (the cabinet) pulled the rug from under his feet,” one MP told the Cyprus Mail.
Patsalis’ own letter of resignation cited personal reasons for his resignation, but also spoke of vested interests standing in the way of vital reforms.
Following a meeting with Patsalis that had been scheduled long before the recent developments, EVROKO Party leader Demetris Syllouris said that he believed the resignation was because the NHS was not moving forward.
“When we stumble or neglect to deal with the deep seated status quo in Cyprus, the interconnections and petty interests, we cannot move forward. And this is the huge problem in Cyprus that has led to the economic crisis and does not allow us to develop quickly,” he said.
Asked which interests he was referring to, he described unions and group interests “that they translate into a national interest”.
“We said that it’s one thing to say we want an NHS and another to be ready to take on the political costs for implementing it. I think today we have come to better understand that without the parties that say they want the NHS and the government and parliament taking on the political costs there will not be an NHS, or, if there is, it won’t be right or it will be really delayed,” Syllouris said.
Another MP told the Cyprus Mail that whilst he had no idea what had gone behind the scenes he suspected it was to do with hospital autonomy and the cabinet’s decision.
“We’re talking about huge interest here for a programme that costs billions. It is a difficult ministry to handle,” he said.
In their own statement, AKEL said efforts were being exerted to blame the unions over Patsalis’ resignation and their reactions to the NHS and hospital autonomy. “It is obvious that those in power are looking for a scapegoat to cover up their own failure in the sensitive health department,” the party said.
“We stress that the dysfunctional image we see from the government is a result of not only the wrong choices in people that were supposed to be the top of the top, but primarily a matter of political choices which must be changed immediately.”