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Doctors say strike highlights impossible working conditions

Doctors taking part in the two-hour work stoppage at Nicosia general hospital earlier this year

The two-hour strike at state hospitals was staged to sensitise the government to the problems faced by the sector, doctors said on Wednesday, as they demanded the decriminalisation of medical acts in the wake of the arrest of two of their own in connection with the death of a 10-year-old boy last week.

The death of the boy caused a storm of public indignation over the weekend after his mother publicly accused Larnaca general hospital doctors who treated him of failing to diagnose his injury correctly.

Police arrested the doctor who treated the boy and the director of the A&E who were both remanded in custody for five days.

The health ministry has said the boy’s death appears to be a case of medical negligence as the boy was first taken to the hospital after an accident at school. He underwent an X-ray but was then sent home without a radiologist seeing the scans, which showed a skull fracture. He was not offered a CT scan.

A few hours later, the boy was taken back to the hospital in Larnaca and had to be rushed to Nicosia general hospital only to die in surgery.

The sight of the two doctors on television being hauled to court in handcuffs irked doctors who blamed the poor state of public facilities for the boy’s death and the state that’s doing nothing to rectify the situation.

The chairman of the main doctors’ union Pasyki said they were not out to score points but to sensitise the government and those responsible for organising the system.

“We repeat, as doctors we are not denying our responsibilities provided they are proven by proper procedures,” Soteris Koumas told a news conference.

But they were experiencing unacceptable conditions that forced doctors to demand the system itself share equal blame for the incident.

Koumas said doctors were offended by the procedure followed during the administrative probe and the extremely humiliating manner in which their colleagues had been arrested.

A doctor with the sign saying ‘We are doctors not criminals’ (Christos Theodorides)

“You cannot criminalise each medical act,” Koumas said. “There are laws, there are procedures, and society cannot demand from us to follow them when other institutions do whatever they see fit.”

Koumas said they had warned early on that conditions in state facilities could lead to tragic incidents but they were not heeded, leading to the death of the boy for which the blame was put on two doctors.

“Things are not so, others too must assume their responsibilities and that is why we are striking mainly to sensitise the health ministry but also others involved, to modernise public hospitals,” he said.

The medical association censured the authorities and the media for the way they handled the issue.

Chairman Petros Agathangelou said the two doctors had been humiliated through practices that had never been used for dangerous criminals, their names were leaked before the probe started, they were arrested in record time and handcuffed, and the health ministry preempted the findings of the inquiry.

Police conceded that the cuffs were excessive but stressed the investigation was being carried out within the strict framework of the law.

“As regards the use of handcuffs during the two suspects’ transfer to court, we judge that in this case, considering all the facts, it could have been avoided,” the force said.

On the ground, the health ministry will have to come up with solutions fast as two other doctors working at Larnaca general hospital’s A&E have submitted their resignations.

Pasyki said doctors could no longer take the mental and physical pressure.

But in Paphos, the general hospital’s cardiology unit and head of A&E did not take part in the strike because they did not agree with the action.

Head of the hospital Joseph Moutiris said the strike was, in his opinion, “at the wrong time and without any substantive reason justifying this action”.

Neofyta Chrysanthou, head of the first aid department at the hospital, said that her colleagues in Larnaca were handling the case wrongly.

She added that patients are not responsible for problems in the public health sector.

The alliance for rare diseases condemned the strike saying there was no justification for it and doctors should not be exempt from the law if they had made a mistake.

In modern democracies, no one avoids justice, the association said in a statement.

“Presidents, officials and high-ranking members of states have sat in the dock, so we condemn any attempt to decriminalise the medical profession.”

The only thing doctors achieved by the strike was to make the public lose respect for all doctors despite there being some excellent professionals in their ranks, the alliance said.


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