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Our Views: Guarantees for private hospitals not the issue, the state sector is

THE COUNCIL of Ministers’ decision to offer €70 million in government guarantees to private hospitals and clinics that join the national health scheme Gesy was unjustifiably criticised by some politicians. They either did not understand the purpose of the guarantees or they knowingly misled people in claiming this money would go towards covering losses or deficits of private hospitals.

Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou clearly explained that the money would be used as a contingency fund to cover unpaid debts of the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO) to private hospitals. This was a condition set by Pasin, the association of private hospitals and clinics, for joining Gesy and it cannot be described as unreasonable even though it betrays a lack of faith in the scheme.

Pasin demanded the guarantee fund so that its members were not left with big unpaid bills in the event the HIO run out of funds. A private hospital left with a debt of 5-6 million euros would probably go under and nobody could rule out the possibility the HIO runs out of funds at some point. By the time a bill is passed to raise extra funds for Gesy a private clinic may have been forced to close down.

It is a risk Pasin members, understandably, were not prepared to take. They were in a position to dictate this term to the HIO because without the private hospitals and clinics, Gesy would not be able to cover needs for in-patient care that is set to start in June. They will receive none of the money if the HIO does not run out of funds and settles it debts to them on time. There was never an issue of the state covering losses incurred by private clinics.

The politicians would make a much more positive contribution by directing their criticism at the situation in public hospitals. They are hostage to costly restrictive practices by the unions, the most irrational being the civil service working hours that ensure an excessive overtime bill. Add to this the extortionate pay demands of the hospital doctors that want their salaries doubled, and the danger is the public hospitals will never become economically viable as the Gesy legislation envisages, and will always need financial support from the taxpayer.

It is the public hospitals everyone should turn their attention to if they really want Gesy to be a success and not a constant drain on public finances. If they were as efficient and cost-effective as private hospitals the viability of the scheme would be assured.

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