The new Minister of Health, Michalis Hadjipantelas, has not acted in a very responsible way in giving the state health services (Okypy) 10 days to tackle the long waiting times at hospital A&E departments at weekends. Does he seriously believe that the problem can be solved in 10 days with the existing resources, the skewed system of primary care that rewards doctors for simply registering patients and the culture of patients expecting to be seen by a doctor as soon as they sneeze, because they do not have to pay?
Hadjipantelas’ deadline betrays a lack of understanding of how the health scheme operates, its weaknesses and failings. For example, many personal doctors refuse to see their patients at weekends as they have no financial incentive to do so, with the result that people go to the hospital A&E departments for care. How many of those need to be seen urgently is debatable, but since the establishment of Gesy, people feel they have a right to healthcare as soon as they demand it, not prepared to wait until Monday.
While there are people needing urgent care there are many who do not, but still go to hospital A&E departments causing long waiting times and inconvenience. The Patients Association (Osak) said as much in a statement it issued on Tuesday, talking of people who go to hospitals at weekends “to see a specialist doctor or for the results of their lab and other tests.” Could they not wait until Monday? These people are preventing patients who actually need care urgently, from being seen. According to Osak, lives are at risk because of the long delays at A&E.
Anyone involved in the health system would also have known that the delays in patients being seen in August is because many personal doctors are on holiday and their patients go to the hospital A&E, which probably also have doctors on leave. In short, the A&E departments are put under tremendous pressure in the holiday months, something a health minister should have been aware of.
The last thing the health minister should be doing is cultivating the patients’ sense of entitlement, creating unreasonable expectations among patients by making them think that the moment they want to see a doctor they would be able to do so promptly, any time of day, including weekends. This can never be the case in a free healthcare system and this is the message a health minister should putting across, explaining that a system that is put under excessive pressure would eventually collapse.
Hadjipantelas should be making it clear that Gesy does not have unlimited resources to offer the perfect service, instead of encouraging people to think that it does.