Everyone turned on the state medical services’ (Okypy) executive for Famagusta and Larnaca district, Giorgos Karotsakis for threatening to quarantine without pay any hospital staff who did not wear a face mask when coming into contact with Covid-19 patients.
Media pilloried him for “threatening the heroes” on the frontline in the war against the virus, while the unions said his threat was unacceptable and that hospital management was clueless.
Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou also intervened in an effort to appease the indignant unions, conceding that Karotsakis had crossed the line. He understood however that the executive’s motivation was to “send a stern message staff to observe protective measures”, which they were not doing. In a way, he had adopted the condescending, didactic style of many ministers, when issuing warnings about the virus, who speak to the public like they were addressing irresponsible and unruly children.
Karotsakis was justifiably angered seeing staff coming into contact with patients without wearing the protective masks. These doctors and nurses might not only contract the virus, but also pass it on to other hospital workers, putting resources under extra strain and forcing closure of hospital departments. There was already a significant number of hospital staff who had been infected and could not go to work, so it was imperative that workers took all the necessary precautions when in contact with patients.
While the threat of cutting the wages was uncalled for and Karotsakis did not have the authority to do such a thing, it was seized by the unions to step up their war against the management of the hospitals which was raging long before the coronavirus crisis. Unions were in dispute with Okypy over a range of issues including pay, so they decided to use Karotsakis’ idle threat to put the management under more pressure.
Pasyki, the doctors’ union, felt aggrieved that the work of its members was not recognised, while nurses’ union Pasyno, in a letter to health minister, complained there was no communication among the workers at the hospitals and “protocols are not being observed”. But was it exclusively the fault of Okypy that protocols were not followed, or were hospital workers ignoring them because they often do as they please?
In fact, one of the reasons for the ongoing dispute between the unions and the hospital management is because the latter has been trying to impose its authority and the former have been resisting.
As Ioannou said, everyone should “remain calm and focus on the common goal” instead of bickering over a non-issue. Union bosses should take a break from their confrontational tactics until the health crisis is over.