State doctors went on a three-hour strike at Makarios hospital in Nicosia on Monday to protest the health ministry’s decision to train students from University of Cyprus’ (UCy) medical school in public hospitals.
The work stoppage, by state doctors’ union Pasyki and the doctors’ branch of civil servants’ union Pasydy, began at 10am, after the dean of the UCy’s medical school Zacharias Zachariou went to the Makarios hospital to assume duties at the children’s surgery clinic, as part of the cooperation agreement between the UCy and the health ministry.
Both unions are against the cooperation agreement between the ministry and the university.
Union representatives told state broadcaster CyBC that Zachariou told them he had nothing to discuss with them as his presence there was a cabinet decision.
“The (agreement) rules stipulate that I am to assume duties and supervise half the doctors of the paediatric surgery clinic,” Zachariou said. He added that the three doctors that were placed under his supervision did not participate in the strike.
The head of Pasydy’s doctors branch Agathocles Christophides said that both unions decided to go ahead with the three-hour work stoppage after Zachariou refused to leave.
“We agreed that his presence cannot be accepted unless a dialogue is initiated in good faith,” Christophides said. Pasydy’s rep raised an issue of state doctors being unfavourably treated due to this agreement.
He added that according to the agreement each hospital department will have two heads – the existing manager and a university doctor – while the latter will also have under his or her supervision a number of medical staff of the department.
“The university doctor will take three to four physicians from the already understaffed clinic which will be under his supervision. This will create chaos,” he said.
But the problem was also the huge difference in salaries as university doctors’ annual income will be more than three times that of state doctors.
“There cannot be in the same work place a doctor earning €180,000 per year and the other €50,000,” Christophides said.
He added that according to the agreement, academic doctors will receive their university salaries, half the salary of a public hospital department head, be allowed to keep a private practice, be paid extra for surgeries, be allowed to take sabbatical leave for research, and will also be entitled to funding for research programmes.
“We as civil servants are not,” he said.
“This is a series of irregularities the ministry must look into”.
He added that at the moment no medical students are scheduled to receive training at the Makarios hospital’s pediatric surgery clinic and that they are expected to arrive in two years when they are in their sixth year in school.
“What’s the rush? There is time for dialogue.”
The head of Pasyki Soteris Koumas said that state hospitals were ready to receive medical school students but the ministry should have frozen the part of the agreement concerning the arrival of university doctors in state hospitals to assume duties until it had been discussed by all parties.
“The agreement is not a law. It is a decision taken by the cabinet which has provisions that are against the existing law on state hospitals and the civil service. These changes need to be regulated by law,” Koumas said.
Meanwhile, Zachariou is persona non grata to some of the doctors at the hospital because of his alleged connection to a €500,000 scandal for which a number of hospital staff are still under investigation.
“Zachariou’s previous stint at the paediatric clinic in 2012 was very traumatic for some as it concerns a €500,000 scandal for which some were referred for disciplinary and administrative probes, and some are still under prosecution,” children’s surgeon Efthymios Tsimitanides said.
The scandal, for which the then executive director of the Makarios hospital, Dr Petros Matsas, and four other staff members were under investigation, concerned the alleged misuse of the services of Zachariou who was called in as a private doctor to perform a number of operations and examinations for which he charged more than €420,000.
The investigation into the services of Zachariou follow an agreement between the health ministry and the doctor in 2012 for him to treat patients at the hospital to reduce the number of children being sent abroad for operations. The investigation is looking into whether some of the calls for his services were unnecessary and irregular.
Following the work stoppage, both unions were to meet with the medical school and Health Minister Giorgos Pamboridis to discuss their grievances. No problems were reported due to the work stoppage.