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Our View: Changing the public service mentality at hospitals an uphill battle

Photo: Christos Theodorides

THE ATTACK on a nurse at the A&E department of the Limassol General Hospital by the angry son of an elderly patient who had been waiting for a long time to be seen, led to an impromptu two-hour work stoppage by nurses at all A&E departments of state hospitals. It was an expression of the frustration of nursing staff, who are on the frontline of state hospital care, and often have to appease angry patients that are kept waiting because of staffing shortages or unavailability of beds. The nurse suffered a broken arm after she was pushed to the ground.

The government doctors’ union Pasyki had been complaining for months now because of doctor shortages at the A&E departments, many having left state hospitals to set up Gesy practices, which have very high earning potential. The earnings offered to personal doctors – up to €250,000 per annum – was a gross miscalculation by the Health Insurance Organisation and is largely to blame for the staff shortages now being faced by the state hospitals and particularly the A&E departments.

State Health Services (Okypy) spokesperson, Charalambos Charilaou said that 70 doctors were recently hired and another 30 were expected to sign contracts soon. There were more doctors at A&E than there were in the summer, except at Limassol hospital which will have to wait until January for new recruits. Apart from the shortage of doctors, the spokesperson cited another cause for the problems faced at state hospitals – they operated like all public sector organisations. He pointed out that a much bigger number of staff was used at state hospitals for operations and sending patients home than at private hospitals.

Even the alleged shortage of beds about which Pasyki had been complaining, was the result of bad management by the doctors who refused to follow the instructions in the manual on the allocation of beds, said Charilaou. The situation in the hospitals is a mess because of staff shortages and bad management. It is very difficult to introduce new management systems and practices in state hospitals at which the public sector mentality is so deeply rooted.

On Thursday the Okypy board will decide the pay incentives that would be given to state hospital doctors, who will be staging a three-hour work stoppage, regardless, on Friday. These incentives, however, should also be linked to the acceptance of the new work practices by the doctors. They cannot be paid more while sticking to the costly public sector practices that will ensure state hospitals remained disorganised and unviable. Things must change once the staffing shortages are dealt with.

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