WHEN the government was drafting its plans for Gesy it decided that public hospitals should be taken out of the control of the health ministry and be placed under an independent authority that would be responsible for running them. The state health services, Okypy, was set up and given the responsibility of administering the hospitals, putting structures in place, hiring personnel, managing finances and improving efficiency with a view to making each hospital autonomous and self-sufficient in five years.
It was the right idea, as the bureaucrats of the health ministry had neither the qualifications nor the expertise to run big and complex operations handlings tens of millions of euros. The thinking at the time was that all employees of the hospitals would stop being public servants and be hired on contracts by the new entity, with the same pay. The inevitable outcry followed from state hospital doctors and nurses, saying this was unacceptable and demanding they remained public employees, even though they would not be working for the state.
Rather than telling them this was not an option, President Anastasiades went for the easy way out, assuring doctors and nurses they could keep their public employee status. The main consequence of this shortsighted decision is that it has made the job of managing hospitals impossible. All the restrictive practices (no afternoon work, overstaffing etc) imposed by public sector unions remained in place and the unions have been on the warpath, threatening strikes in pursuit of higher pay and constantly demanding the hiring of more staff.
Worst of all, hospital staff refuse to follow orders from Okypy management on the grounds that they are public employees, and their employer is the state. Having made hospitals unmanageable with his decision, Anastasiades is now demanding explanations from Okypy for its failure to ensure hospitals provide a good standard of service. Not only this but the health minister is constantly undermining Okypy’s authority by interfering in its disputes with the unions, the objective always being to appease the latter.
The minister, Michalis Hadjipantelas, went as far as to submit his own proposal in the latest dispute caused by Okypy’s efforts to persuade its public employee doctors and nurses to work afternoon, despite there already being a proposal on the table from Okypy. Hadjipantelas subsequently withdrew his proposal but defended his unjustified intervention by claiming “we find solutions to problems so there is no confrontation.”
The fact is whenever politicians intervene in any dispute as mediators, they always side with the unions because they represent more votes. It did not occur to Hadjipantelas that by trying to appease the unions with his own proposal, he was not only undermining Okypy, but sending the message to doctors and nurses that the government has no confidence in Okypy. And then everyone attacks Okypy for failing to manage the hospitals.
The responsibility for this belongs fully to the government and its irrational decisions.