THE Paphos hospital’s accident and emergency department was on skeleton staff from 12.30pm to 2.30pm on Thursday, the first day of strike measures announced by doctors to protest understaffing at the unit, an action the competent minister says was unfounded.
Doctors working at the hospital’s A&E department said on Thursday they would call off their daily two-hour work stoppage only when two more physicians are hired by the health ministry to meet the understaffing problem.
The doctors had announced that they would go on two-hour work stoppages every day; between 12.30pm and 2.30pm on weekdays and 6.30pm to 8.30pm on weekends.
At the moment, there are ten doctors at the department, while the minimum number of physicians required to meet needs and ensure patient safety is 13, doctors said.
They also said that some of their colleagues are on extended sick leave but have not been replaced and that they are forced to work for long periods of time without breaks while not being paid for overtime.
Health minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Thursday that he was baffled by how the demand of hiring two more physicians would solve the problem so fast. He said that his ministry had been trying to find someone to fill a vacant position at the hospital’s A&E department, but there had been no interest.
“In any case, the demand will be assessed, although there have never been 13 doctors at the Paphos A&E department,” Ioannou said.
He added that the problem caused last month due to sick leaves has already been resolved, as two physicians returned to work.
A senior health ministry official refuted earlier in the day claims by the doctors that the ministry did not respond to their repeated letters referring to the understaffing problems.
The head of the ministry’s medical services, Elisavet Constantinou, told state broadcaster CyBC that she had gone three times to the Paphos hospital to discuss with staff the problems they faced.
She also said that, according to the ministry’s calculations, the department in question was adequately staffed and that what is needed is better organisation.
Constantinou said that, at the moment, taking into account the director and a doctor who returns in December from maternity leave, a total of 12 doctors work at the A&E department. She added that the number of patients per physician per shift was 20 and that this was considered manageable.
She also said that efforts are being made to hire more staff in all A&E departments.
The minister said that he was curious as to the real reason behind the strike measures of the doctors in Paphos. He expressed hope that it was not orchestrated by state doctors’ union Pasyki in retaliation for not being consulted on a new measure introduced recently at the Nicosia A&E. The measure concerns the reinforcement of the Nicosia hospital’s A&E unit during peak hours through overtime work by physicians who offered voluntarily to do so.
Despite the fact that the measure was proposed by the hospital’s medical staff, the minister said, “unfortunately”, Pasyki expressed its disappointment for the introduction of the measure without them being informed.
“Is it a coincidence that the announcement of the strike (in Pahos) come a day after Pasyki’s complaint about the implementation of the measure at the Nicosia A&E without it being in its knowledge?” the minister asked.
Ioannou said that he would like to think that Pasyki was not behind the strike measures in Paphos “in order to create a crisis out of nowhere, because the competent authority in its attempt to resolve issues adopted suggestions of the staff without asking for the approval of the trade union.”