Cyprus Mail

Health ministry defends A&E staffing plans

The health ministry said on Tuesday that staffing issues at the accident and emergency departments (A&E) of state hospitals are improving, even though only seven nurses have expressed interest in filling 40 temporary job posts advertised.

Permanent nursing staff, however, said the low level of applications will not solve staffing problems in the A&Es and criticised the ministry for offering bad terms.

The decision to hire 40 nurses, according to Prodromos Argyrides, head of the PASYDY civil servants union’s nursing branch, aims to bring in staff to help out during the summer season where there is an increased work load, but also to fill in for nurses on leave.

But only seven people expressed interest in two rounds of advertising.

The problem, according to Argyrides, is that the health ministry wants to buy nurses’ services for six months instead of hiring them on contracts.

He said that contract nurses get annual leave and other benefits, while employment in terms of purchase of services means just the offered salary and no extra pay for Sunday work or holidays.

As a result, he said, “we are almost in August and the departments are finding it hard to cope.”

Many nurses, he said, will not be able to go on holiday and spend time with their families.

“This procedure should not have been followed,” Argyrides told the Cyprus Mail.

He said that to be able to cover shifts, current nursing staff have been invited to express interest in doing overtime work. “There is however limited interest, due to exhaustion but also due to the summer period,” Argyrides said.

He expressed concerned as to how they will be able to serve patients.

“Patients form long lines in A&E departments, people get irritated, and sometimes they take it out on us, even though it is not our fault,” he said.

He added that nursing staff are currently not covering the safe minimum staffing levels that regulations call for.

The head of the health ministry’s nursing services, Andreas Xenofontos, said that there has been an improvement as regards staffing matters, because despite the limited expression of interest the ministry is taking measures to tackle the problem.

Xenofontos said that the reason behind the limited express of interest, was “probably that, as they would be hired only for six months, nurses working in private hospitals and elsewhere found it risky to quit their jobs to work in state hospitals for just six months.”

He said that two people who expressed interest during the first round for the Nicosia general hospital’s A&E have already been hired, while five people submitted an application in the second round of express of interest – three for Paphos, one in Limassol and one in Larnaca.

Xenofontos said the health ministry, in a bid to reinforce the Paphos and Larnaca A&Es that face the most problems as regards understaffing, has sent two more nurses to each of those units.

“It seems that staffing issues are improving for the most part,” he said, adding that there has been some reinforcement. “We have other measures such as encouraging existing staff to do overtime work.”

He added that the clustering of services of the Nicosia health centres would decongest the A&E of the district’s general hospital, as they would be operating until late in the afternoon.

“A significant number of people who go to the A&Es are not for emergencies, so, they will be able to go to health centres instead,” Xenofontos said.

The health centre at the old Nicosia hospital and the Latsia already operate between 7.30am and 8pm, while as of Monday, those of Lakatamia and Strovolos will introduce the extended hours too.

The measure is to gradually expand to other districts, too Xenofontos said.

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