Thanks to improved vetting and stricter protocols, the cost of patient referrals to private hospitals here and abroad has shrunk considerably over the past five years, officials said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the House watchdog committee, Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides said he was satisfied with the gradual decline in the cost to taxpayers.
In 2014, it cost the state some €23 million to refer patients to medical centres abroad, compared to €52 million in 2010.
At the same time, Michaelides said, the number of patient referrals has not varied appreciably, indicating that the lower costs are the result of better funds management.
In the past, he added, there was little transparency in patient referral cases, highly suggestive that several cases were not warranted.
Now, contrary to past practice, authorities keep records of patients referred to private hospitals.
The health ministry’s permanent secretary Christina Yiannaki cited figures according to which actual expenditures in 2015 stood at €11.5 million, €22.9 million in 2014, and €31.2 million in 2013.
Last year, she said, state subsidies for patient referrals to private medical centres in Cyprus came to €7.1 million, plus €4.4 million for referrals abroad.
Beneficiaries of the scheme are Cypriot citizens and citizens of EU member states who live permanently on the island, and who suffer from conditions that cannot be diagnosed or treated in public hospitals.
They also qualify if the treatment they need cannot be provided by state hospitals in time, risking a deterioration of their condition.
Where patients receive treatment by the private sector or abroad without first going through the procedure, they have the option to file for financial aid up to four months after the treatment took place.
Following on the auditor general’s reports of discrepancies leading to squandering of public money, the health ministry has enforced stricter controls on referrals and invitations of specialists to avoid unjustified calls. It has also entered into agreements with private hospitals in Cyprus and abroad for reduced cost of treatments.