All patients on waiting lists for surgeries at state hospitals on or after March 15 will undergo the procedures in the private sector, following a Cabinet decision on Monday.
March 15 marks the day nurses from the PASYNO union began an indefinite strike in state hospitals.
Some patients have already been referred to the private sector for treatment, but Monday’s decision means all state health patients waiting for surgery should now be referred for as long as the strike continues.
Deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said the choice of which private hospital the patient would be referred to would be made by the heads of each state hospital’s department and ratified by each hospital chief.
Referrals should be adequately justified by the heads of each hospital’s department, Papadopoulos said.
“Specific guidelines were given to serve all those patients scheduled for surgery but could not get the specific service due to the strike,” Health Minister George Pamporidis said, following a meeting at the Nicosia general hospital.
State doctors union PASYKI immediately criticised the decision and warned it would not allow government doctors to oversee choosing a private medical centre for a patient as it would leave them open to accusations of favouritism and bribery.
At the same time, it said, the decision “blatantly violates the right of the patient to free choice of doctor”.
The union added that the “responsibility for selecting the medical centre is the sole responsibility of the health ministry”.
The announcement that large numbers of patients would now be receiving surgery in private clinics came after the head of a public sector nurses union warned on Monday that patients’ health could be at risk if the health ministry did not resolve staffing problems in state hospitals caused by the ongoing strike.
The head of PASYDY’s nurses union, Prodromos Argyrides, said lack of staff could put patients at risk as nurses not taking part in the strike were exhausted.
PASYDY members have not joined their approximately 1,900 colleagues at PASYNO who went on an indefinite strike last Tuesday.
Argyrides warned, however, that the situation could not continue for much longer.
“This is a serious problem we can’t hide it…I don’t think we can go on like this for many more days,” he said.
“The situation is very difficult and gets harder every day. Until now the health ministry has still not managed to arrange adequate skeleton staff for every department.”
The union boss said PASYDY was now considering taking their own measures, but could not reveal details until after a general meeting.
Speaking on state radio, Argyrides said that as of Monday, PASYDY nurses would only be dealing with emergency situations and would handle other cases only if they could.
This was firstly to protect patients but also PASYDY members. If something happened to patients, then the nurses would bear responsibility, he said.
Meanwhile, President Nicos Anastasiades met with AKEL’s general secretary Andros Kyprianou on Monday to discuss the problems plaguing the health sector.
Deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said “during the meeting, there was a fruitful exchange of opinions on a series of issues plaguing the health sector.”
The much anticipated National Health Scheme (NHS) was on the agenda, with Anastasiades briefing Kyprianou that he intended to have an exhaustive dialogue on a party leader level on how the NHS could gradually be implemented.
“There are of course different opinions and approaches but the president believes the aim is a national consultation over the subject of health because offering quality services to citizens is necessary.”
Responding to reports, the treasury in a statement said the actual hours and days for which public sector employees – including nurses – went on a strike were deducted from their paycheque.
PASYNO nurses are striking in a bid to pressure the government to recognise their qualifications as equivalent to a university degree. Although they insist they are not doing it for the money, the move would automatically put them on a higher pay scale and according to the government, cost the state back some €35 to €40 million.