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Our View: Public service’s lack of urgency is putting patients lives at risk

THERE will be a meeting on Wednesday at which the representatives of the health ministry and the state health services (Okypy) will submit proposals for tackling the shortage of doctors at hospital A&E departments to the government doctors’ union Pasyki. The pace at which the public sector moves is quite astonishing; there is never a sense of urgency, not even when a problem cannot wait because people’s lives could be at risk.

This is not a case of being alarmist, but when there are overworked, tired doctors that have had to work long days without taking any time off, having to deal with serious cases, mistakes could easily be made. Doctor at A&E departments have to make quick decisions and when there is just one medic dealing with several patients in need of immediate attention, wrong calls could be made. Could anyone accuse a doctor of negligence, when they have to work under such conditions?

Despite the urgency of the situation, the ministry and Okypy will present proposals on Wednesday, wait for a response of the union – perhaps also enter a bout of negotiations – and hope a solution will be found at some point in the future. To be fair, Pasyki has been warning about the shortages at hospitals’ A&E departments for months and some attempts have been made to stop the departure of doctors, but they did not work.

The monthly allowance given to doctors was more than doubled – from €500 it went to €1,200 – but it was not enough to stop them leaving and setting up practices as personal doctors whose earning potential is significantly higher. It never crossed the minds of the planners at the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO) that paying personal doctors €100 per registered patient per year – to a ceiling of €250,000 per year – was bound to attract hospital doctors as well? Even if they earned a third of the maximum, they would be better off – none of the pressure of A&E, no night shifts and fewer hours.

A couple of days ago, it was reported that there was great interest in hospital jobs from Greece-based doctors as well as newly-qualified doctors, Okypy having advertised 60 vacancies. Whether there will be enough applicants to cover the needs of the A&E departments, nobody knows. The obvious thing for Okypy to do in the meantime is to assign shifts in A&E to specialist doctors from other hospital departments so that their colleagues can have a day off. Unfortunately, such urgent action is unheard of in the public sector in which everything must go through committees before it is discussed with the union.

We can only hope that there does not have to be a major crisis at a hospital A&E for the state medical authorities to act with a sense of urgency.

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