By Angelos Anastasiou and Evie Andreou
TENSIONS mounted in the health sector on Tuesday as furious nurses slammed DISY leader Averof Neophytou for lambasting them, and Health Minister Giorgos Pamboridis who called their strike ‘a whim’, also met state doctors in an attempt to avoid a new crisis.
The PASYNO union nurses, who ended two days of industrial action on Tuesday evening but are not done, they said, were also called on by their colleagues in public service union PASYDY to remain patient in pursuing their demands from the government.
Speaking on CyBC’s noon news show, Pamboridis said: “It makes no sense to shut down public healthcare for two days in a row and inconvenience patients on a whim. It’s like using a missile system to shoot a mosquito.”
He called on everyone involved in the sector to look for solutions through dialogue.
“None of the problems facing the healthcare sector will be resolved by ultimatums and threats,” the minister said.
PASYNO’s members, numbering around half nursing staff in state hospitals, are protesting against hospital understaffing, lack of information over government’s plans to make hospitals autonomous, and the government’s delay in starting discussions with the union over upgrading nursing school qualifications.
The nurses are also asking for a freeze on promotions to be lifted, the introduction of a hazardous occupation allowance, and the opening of 200 more nursing jobs with higher entry-level salaries.
Weighing in on their demands, Neophytou said PASYNO had “lost measure” and was trying to force the government’s hand by using the nurses’ vote as a trump card ahead of May’s legislative elections.
“Cyprus has not yet even exited its economic adjustment programme, and a nurses’ union has gone on strike, citing two main demands: the introduction of extra allowances because their work has particularities, and the upgrading of their nursing-school qualifications,” Neophytou said.
“There have been nurses in Cyprus since 1960 – have we suddenly remembered, 56 years later, that this profession has particularities that merit extra allowances? And, on the other hand, they ask a state that has seen its people sacrifice so much to avoid bankruptcy, to move entry-level nursing jobs from the A4 pay-scale, to A8. This is not just a matter of fiscal discipline, but one of social – and other – justice.”
According to Neophytou, if nurses, after four years of studies, start their careers at the A8 pay-scale, they would end up being paid more than a doctor starting a job at a public hospital on the A9 pay-scale after ten or twelve years of studies, because nurses will have already had seven or eight years’ worth of pay increments under their belt.
“And I want to say this: they should look at their neighbour, or their relative, where people are living through the nightmare of unemployment,” he said.
Neophytou’s comments sparked the reaction of PASYNO late Tuesday, rejecting his arguments and defending the nurses’ demands.
“Mr Neophytou, let us inform you that it is not since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus that nurses should be considered university graduates, but since 2011, when the nursing degree was accredited,” the union said.
“Nurses hold a degree equal to that of other degree-holders hired in the public sector, but while the rest are acknowledged, evaluated, and compensated as scientific staff, nurses are classed as secondary-education graduates.”
With regard to the state of the fragile economy, PASYNO said the nursing profession was certainly not responsible for the events that led to its collapse, and that Neophytou should be thanking them for the work they are doing in severely understaffed public hospitals.
Due to the strike, which started at 7.30am for the second day running, all scheduled surgeries at the Paphos, Limassol and Paralimni state hospitals were cancelled on Tuesday, since the majority of their nursing staff there are PASYNO members, while a number of surgeries were also cancelled at the Nicosia and Larnaca state hospitals. Skeleton staff were handling emergencies.
PASYNO reiterated earlier on Tuesday they do not recognise the deal PASYDY reached with the health ministry earlier in the month which entails the satisfaction of PASYDY’s demands in exchange for them to engage in a constructive dialogue as regards the implementation of the National Health Scheme (NHS) and hospital autonomy, because PASYNO was not included in the dialogue.
The union’s board will convene during the week to review the situation and make decisions.
The head of PASYDY’s nurses branch Prodromos Argyrides urged PASYNO to be patient as they would have their chance at a meeting soon between the competent ministries and the unions for a formal NHS briefing.
Argyrides said that no serious problems were observed during the two-day strike, but that patients visiting especially the Paphos, Limassol and Paralimni hospitals had experienced hardship.
Meanwhile, the head of state doctors union PASYKI, Sotiris Koumas had a meeting on Tuesday afternoon with Pamboridis in what was deemed a new bid by the minister to avert another strike this time by state doctors. Their union PASYKI had given Pamboridis until mid-February to satisfy their demands, which include resolving hospital understaffing and doctors’ short-term contracts.