Health minister Michalis Hadjipantelas has given the state health services organisation (Okypy) ten days to smooth out problems with emergency services on weekends following complaints from patients.

On Sunday, the minister made an impromptu visit to the Nicosia general hospital’s Accident and Emergency department, speaking to patients and noting a number of issues they face on weekends, namely long waiting times, other delays and a shortage of beds.

Health ministry spokesperson Margarita Kyriacou told CyBC on Tuesday morning that these are known issues, explaining that public hospital A&E departments are overwhelmed on weekends because they are patients’ only choice, with the exception of one private hospital in Limassol.

A written announcement on Tuesday from the Pancyprian federation of patients’ associations (Osak) called on all involved parties, particularly the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO), the state health services (Okypy), and personal doctors to assume responsibility and work towards resolving these problems.

“Every weekend, we receive complaints from members of the public who spend hours waiting to be admitted to wards, or for a specialist doctor to see them, or for the results of their lab and other tests,” Osak president Marios Kouloumas said.

The announcement said Osak has been warning officials about the situation since early August to no avail “as patients continue to be massively inconvenienced, with some who need urgent care even risking their lives”.

Before Gesy, other on-call medical services helped alleviate some of the pressure on A&E departments by serving patients who did not require emergency care but still needed medical attention, it added.

A great deal of responsibility falls on the HIO, which runs the national health scheme Gesy and is by extension responsible for establishing and running on-call medical services, the announcement added.

Personal doctors were also blamed for putting additional pressure on A&E departments by not responding to patient calls outside normal working hours or sending patients with non-urgent needs to the A&E if they are away.

The main issue is that while the HIO did put forward a proposal for the creation of on-call medical services in 2019 it was shelved after drawing very little interest from health professionals and hospitals, both in and outside of Gesy.

Throughout August, HIO temporarily ran emergency medical services as well as the 1420 hotline for those unable to contact their personal doctor but according to Osak this was not that effective as the service was only available on weekends and the public were not sufficiently informed.

At the same time, Osak was “sad to observe that some of the healthcare system’s enduring problems continue to exist, such as delays in emergency responses, lab work and other tests,” as well as issues that have patients waiting for up to 24 hours for a bed.

Earlier in the day, Okypy spokesman Charalambos Charilaou told Alpha TV that “permanent on-call services are the only viable solution”, and the HIO must take steps towards launching them.

He was quick to defend Okypy, saying that “in Cyprus we like to have a black sheep that we blame for everything.

“Based on our capabilities, we offer Cypriot patients all the services they need, keeping the quality high. The results are there for everyone to see,” he said, pointing out that Okypy-run hospitals have treated over 5,000 people since the start of the pandemic.

On behalf of Osak, Kouloumas asked for a meeting as “it is unacceptable to keep discussing the same issues for them to be resolved through temporary solutions”.

Kyriacou said that the health minister will meet officials on Wednesday to address these issues.