THE HEALTH minister was very optimistic – if not totally unrealistic – to think that the agreement reached with the University of Cyprus regarding the use of the Nicosia General and Makarios hospitals as training hospitals for medical students would be put into practice without any hitches. As soon as the decision was approved by the Council of Ministers last week the hospital doctors’ unions took battle positions demanding that the decision was suspended and threatened strikes.
The unions had been complaining even before the decision was taken on the grounds they had not been invited to the discussions between the ministry and the university. Unions have to have a say about everything, even matters they know nothing about and which do not concern them. What meaningful contribution could the doctors’ unions have made to discussions about using hospitals as part of the university’s medical school? Individual doctors could have given useful advice, but union reps would only talk about their members interests – how the new regime would affect their members’ working hours, salaries and promotion prospects.
When the dean of the medical school arrived at the Makarios hospital to take charge of the children’s surgery department on Monday, the two unions representing doctors staged a three-hour work stoppage in protest. The strike immediately paved the way for the dialogue the health ministry wanted to avoid. A meeting of representatives of the ministry, unions and the medical school was held and it was decided that the ministry-university agreement would be put on hold until Monday. Unions, meanwhile, are expected to come up with their proposals on Friday.
What could they propose considering their main objection to making Makarios and Nicosia General university hospitals is the disparity in pay. As the leader of one of the unions said, the university doctors’ income would be much higher – as much as three times higher – than what hospital doctors earned. “There cannot be in the same workplace a doctor earning €180,000 and the other €50,000,” said one union boss on Monday. Only a union which defends mediocrity and does not want higher professional standards and expertise to be reflected in pay would want everyone on the same salaries.
This protection of mediocrity by the all-powerful unions keeps healthcare standards low. Only a fool would not see that bringing in doctors with greater expertise and experience in their respective specialisations to train students would raise healthcare standard. Such doctors would bring their broader medical knowledge to hospitals and help treat difficult cases, which is why nobody should begrudge them higher salaries. Doctors that bring something more to our hospitals cannot be paid union wages because they are contributing more than unionised doctors.
However, nobody would be surprised if the unions insist on dictating the wages of the university doctors in the proposals they make on Friday, for the sake of social justice.