By Elias Hazou
The government plans to roll out a ‘mini’ National Health Scheme’ as a springboard to the gradual implementation of a full-blown NHS, health minister Giorgos Pamboridis revealed on Thursday.
Unveiling the ‘mini-NHS’ idea to the House health committee, Pamboridis said it is envisaged as an intermediate stage.
First, each state hospital should become financially and administratively autonomous. The new timeframe for this is January 1, 2017.
Later, during the second half of 2017, an NHS-light would be gradually implemented.
To fund it, workers would contribute 1 per cent of their salaries through the Social Security Fund; employers and the state would chip in for the rest.
The 1 per cent is considerably lower than the 2.3 per cent contribution that had been planned for the NHS in its fully-fledged form, said Pamboridis.
By contributing, all citizens of the Republic will become eligible for free health care at public hospitals.
“We are talking about a gradual implementation of the NHS far earlier than previously planned,” Pamboridis later told reporters.
“As of 2017 we shall try to extend healthcare coverage to the entire population, boosting public hospitals, so that through real autonomy they can stand on their own feet and meet their obligations once the NHS is finally introduced.”
It is estimated that the contributions will generate €200m for the mini-NHS, which is about half the amount needed by state hospitals to operate autonomously and offer patients the full range of services.
“Whenever the hospitals cannot cope, patients will be referred to the private sector, and where the private sector cannot cope, they will be referred abroad,” the minister added.
Asked whether this meant someone would be able to pick up the phone and book an appointment at a state hospital, Pamboridis said: “We said that we are going to reform the healthcare sector, not work miracles. Calling to book an appointment…I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”
“Hospital autonomy itself will take time, in order that private-enterprise criteria can take root, so that healthcare providers become aware that they are dealing with customers, not nuisances, and will treat each patient as a customer and price them, so that the hospitals in turn can be assessed in terms of their efficiency and productivity.”
The first stage is hospital autonomy, the second is the mini-NHS and the third and final stage is rolling out the final NHS, he repeated.
“We have to start somewhere, and the beginning is the hardest part in this drive to reform healthcare in our country,” Pamboridis said.
The health ministry is working ‘feverishly’ so that it can draft and submit the relevant legislation to parliament before it closes for the May legislative elections.
The plan is to enable public hospitals to have administrative, scientific, academic, legal and political autonomy.
It is hoped that this will upgrade healthcare services.
Hospital autonomy must be achieved before the NHS is implemented because under the new health scheme, patients will be able to choose which doctor and which hospital to visit.