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Health minister under fire for ‘quick fix’ mini-NHS

Health minister Yiorgos Pamborides announcing the roll-out of a mini-NHS in parliament (Photo Christos Theodorides)

By Angelos Anastasiou

THOUGH most acknowledged that not much can be discussed until a fleshed-out proposal has been officially submitted, political parties and other groups on Friday lambasted Health minister Yiorgos Pamborides’ announcement of a mini-NHS to be rolled out in mid-2017, six months after public hospitals have become autonomous.

Most criticism focused on the suspicion that the announcement was little more than a thinly-veiled attempt at pushing back full implementation, or even cancelling the planned universal healthcare system altogether by settling for the half-measure.

“Now we’ll see who hypocritically called for the NHS’ implementation, but were actively trying to stall it,” Pamborides said on Friday.

He was referring to the last 15 years since the passing of legislation for the implementation of a universal-coverage system in 2001, but progress has yet to be made.

“The plan will not be redesigned; what is being introduced is the gradual implementation of the final plan,” the minister added.

Speaking on state radio, Pamborides revealed that the idea for gradual implementation came from Finance minister Harris Georgiades, after his colleague kept harassing him for more health funding so that “burning issues could be tackled”.

“I consented, and the planning was done jointly,” Pamborides said.

“With gradual implementation of the NHS, with limited initial scope to cover only public hospitals, all the long-standing problems are resolved, while the introduction of the final plan is better prepared.”

Unconvinced, main opposition party AKEL said public healthcare has fallen victim to “neoliberal austerity policies”.

“This most negative of developments vindicates our warnings that if the government and DISY were unable to introduce a multi-payer system, to serve the interests of a handful of private insurance companies, they would refer the NHS to the Greek Calends,” spokesman Yiorgos Loucaides said.

“We call on the government to abandon its socially insensitive policies and re-introduce the agreed NHS plan.”

EDEK and the Greens also called for the introduction of the originally agreed plan for a universal healthcare system.

The doctors’ association complained that it was not involved in the decision-making process.

“We will continue to support only serious, scientifically-backed efforts at reforming the healthcare sector, which will safeguard and improve the quality and operation of medical care to our fellow citizens,” the association said.

The Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry also voiced disagreement on grounds that interim implementation of the NHS should not be funded by the private sector.

“Any contributions should be paid only when full implementation of the NHS is underway, and only for the purpose of gaining access to healthcare services,” the CCCI said.

“Rendering hospitals financially and administratively autonomous is a prerequisite to the NHS’ successful implementation, and is the sole responsibility of the state. Under no circumstances should this be funded by the private sector.”

The unions of doctors and nurses at state hospitals were also negative towards the idea, both on the caveat that the proposal is not yet fully fleshed out.

“The real issue is whether state hospitals will even exist by 2017,” said head of the doctors’ union Soteris Koumas.

“I must be blunt – public hospitals are nearly crippled. Their operational readiness is at zero, if not minus something. Nothing is being done to address the problems, and everything is pinned on implementing autonomy. But until we get to autonomy – a year from now – the risk of not having state hospitals is big and clear.”

Spokesman of the nurses’ union Theodoros Petelis was also critical, though for a host of different reasons.

“Considering we now serve 70 to 80 per cent of the public at state hospitals, with the new proposal we will have to cope with a burden of 100 per cent,” he said.

“And since we can’t cope now, due to understaffing and premises in need of upgrading, I don’t know how public hospitals can cope with the minister’s decision.”

But, he added, a number of other issues relating to the employment status of nurses at state hospitals also pose a risk to implementation.

“There are nurses that should have been made permanent since 2011,” Petelis said.

“If these issues are not resolved, how can we accept to be transferred to another employment regime?”

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