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President throws his support behind ‘mini-NHS’

President Nicos Anastasiades said on Wednesday the reason why the National Health Scheme (NHS) was never implemented by previous governments was not down to lack of political will but rather lack of resources.
Speaking to journalist and Sigma TV presenter Chrysanthos Tsouroulis, the president said that costs for the implementation of the NHS are such that all governments since 2001 when the NHS law was passed did not dare implement it.
“There were no funds available,” Anastasiades said.
But he insisted that healthcare was among the priorities of his government, including the ‘mini NHS’, which he said was a springboard to the gradual implementation of a full-blown NHS, and was announced by Health Minister Giorgos Pamboridis last month.
“It is an intermediate plan, which will be implemented following dialogue with state and private doctors, so as to serve effectively and provide better quality care to patients,” Anastasiades said.
Commenting on the criticisms of the health minister after he announced the mini NHS, Anastasiades said that there would be “an in-depth discussion with all stakeholders” within the next few days, which would lead to the implementation of this intermediate stage.
He added that this decision should be taken jointly by all political parties, since it is a permanent measure.
“If we burden the state with a system for which the people will have to pay highly, it will either be discontinued by the next government or it will not be implemented,” Anastasiades said. He added that the priority was to deal with the problems patients and the medical sector face and find a solution as soon as possible.
The ‘mini-NHS’ has been opposed by most political parties and all associations of healthcare professionals, who even banded together in a joint news conference last week to bash the plan.
According to the plan, first, each state hospital should become financially and administratively autonomous by January 1, 2017, while during the second half of 2017, the mini NHS 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 mini-NHS became the bone of contention between health professionals and Pamporidis especially after his statements to Kathimerini on Sunday that there are private doctors who do not want to see the NHS implemented because they benefit hugely from the way the health system operates now.
He added that they operate in an uncontrolled environment with minimum competition and make a lot of money, which in many cases goes undeclared. All this would change when the NHS is introduced, he said.
His comments provoked a strong reaction from private doctors associations and the Medical Association (CMA), leading Pamporidis to declare on Tuesday that the auditor-general’s reports for 2013 and 2014 referred to specific cases of tax dodging doctors. But he was quick to add that he did not believe all private doctors were tax dodgers.
As regards the state doctors’ move to limit the number of patients they examine to 20 a day, he said that he found it odd that some doctors were so keen on invoking legality, but did not exhibit the same “sensitivity” when it came to clocking in each day.
“I could tell them that whoever is not punching in their card as of Monday will not be getting paid. I am thinking about it, but this is not a solution. I don’t like ultimatums,” Pamporidis said.
One of the disputes between the health ministry and state doctors is their refusal to clock in at the beginning and end of each working day, which the government insists upon.
He added that he knows that doctors put in a lot of extra hours but that their word is not enough, and that he has an obligation to the cabinet and the president to make sure there is a proper record.
As regards the announced nurses’ strike next week, he said that nurses gave him an ultimatum to meet their demands by a specific date but that he doesn’t like to act under blackmail.
Their demand for 159 temporary nursing staff to be given permanent posts was understandable, he said, and that they know his ministry was working toward that end.

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