IF ONLY there was a straightforward solution to the long waiting lists and supposed understaffing being faced by state hospitals. Unfortunately there is none, because of the inefficient, centralised and bureaucratic way in which state hospitals are organised, made even worse by the restrictive practices imposed by unions.
The hospitals are a big mess created by decades of bad management and politically-motivated decisions. It suffices to say that these big organisations, with annual budgets of tens of millions of euros and hundreds of employees, were for decades being managed by doctors and ministry civil servants, none of whom possessed the management skills or know-how for such a daunting job. Why would they? Such organisations should have been run by experienced and proven executives with managerial support staff but they were not and have become monuments to inefficiency and bad practices.
Hospital doctors are currently protesting about the long waiting lists which were caused by staff shortages that the health ministry was supposedly refusing to tackle. In the past their union PASYKI had imposed a quota on the number of patients a doctor would see every day, but this time it said it would ask its members to adjust the cases they handle according to the number of staff in their department. PASYKI also said that some departments were in danger of closing down because of doctor shortages.
The ministry countered that no funds were available for hiring doctors, but also that there was little interest. Its decision to send patients to the private sector in order to cut waiting times, which for some cases were over a year, was a temporary solution as the money it had set aside for this will run out before too long. The ministry is quite clearly at a loss over what to do. The mini national health scheme it announced last year appears to have been abandoned and now it seems that the drive to make the each hospital an autonomous entity has hit major obstacles.
Apart from union objections to their members – doctors and nurses – losing their privileged status as public employees and working a shift system without overtime pay, the health ministry is reluctant to undertake the major costing exercise necessary for making each hospital autonomous. Nobody knows what will happen, even if during the election campaign all the parties urged the government to proceed with the introduction of the national health scheme. It was just rhetoric of course, none them came up with proposals for how difficulties should be resolved.
The truth is that despite the millions spent on planning a national health scheme it is still nothing more than a piece of rhetoric and wishful thinking.