IT COULD not have been very easy for the president to find someone to fill the post of health minister that was vacated by the resignation of Philippos Patsalis a couple of weeks ago.
There was plenty of media speculation regarding possible candidates over the previous fortnight, but this was not the ministerial post that leads to an array of individuals volunteering for the job via newspaper articles.
On the contrary, the health ministry is seen as a poisoned chalice. President Anastasiades had tried to give it to the education minister Costas Kadis, as it would have been much easier to find someone to fill that education post, but Kadis turned down the offer. There were not many people willing to take on the daunting task of planning and introducing the most complex and difficult project ever undertaken by the Republic – the national health scheme.
The job after all had defeated an ambitious man, determined to make his mark, in Patsalis who resigned because of the unions blocking his health scheme plans and because he felt he did not have the full backing of the president. He submitted his resignation after the Council of Ministers failed to approve the bills that would make each state hospital an autonomous entity, the suspicion being that the president was pandering to the nurses’ and doctors’ union that opposed them. Patsalis had regularly clashed with the unions, which wanted to preserve all the privileges enjoyed by their members under the new system, and kept putting back implementation deadlines agreed with the troika.
Hearing Anastasiades underlining the government’s determination to push ahead with the national health scheme during Monday’s investiture ceremony for the new minister, Giorgos Pamboridis, it was difficult to understand why Patsalis had stepped down. This determination was not evident in the actions of the president. Despite these public assurances, Pamboridis will be aware that he has been given the most difficult ministerial portfolio and that he would not be able to take the president’s support for granted when he confronts the unions, as he must do before long.
The reality is that there will never be a national health scheme without confronting the health sector unions, something Anatasiades is terrified of. Then again if the new health minister decides to go on the confrontation path the president might be forced to back him because he cannot afford another ministerial resignation over the health scheme to deal with.
Pamboridis faces a very big challenge and he should know that the opposition he will encounter if he tries to introduce the health scheme might not only come from the unions and the political parties.