Diagnostic centres, particularly radiological facilities, effectively operate in a lawless environment, often carrying out unnecessary MRIs or using outdated and potentially hazardous machinery.
What’s more, some doctors are shareholders in the very diagnostic centres to which they refer patients.
The reveals came out at the House health committee on Thursday, where MPs overall got the impression that this aspect of healthcare amounts to a grift – a money-making exercise with no accountability and laden with corruption.
It turns out that no specific legislation or regulations govern the operation of these diagnostic centres. The health ministry has promised to draft a bill and bring it to parliament as soon as possible.
Lawmakers also heard how no standard specifications exist for equipment like MRI scanners, putting patients’ life potentially at risk.
Prodromos Kaplanis, head of the Medical Physics department at the state health services organisation, said that one patient dies per every 200 full-body MRI scans, and that many exposed to radiation go on to develop cancer.
The doctor spoke of a lack of specifications for the gear. A second-hand machine might cost €80,000, while a brand new one goes for €1 million or even €2 million.
For his part, Thyrsos Posporis – founder and executive director of the ‘Ayios Therissos’ MRI centre – alleged that there exists a system of bribes in healthcare. Doctors who are shareholders in such diagnostic facilities refer patients for “needless exams.”
Responding to a question, Posporis said it is prohibited for doctors to have a financial interest in a diagnostic centre.
And many operations performed – as a result of faulty diagnoses – are unnecessary.
He said that with the rollout of the national health system (Gesy), second-hand machines came to be used “without checking the technology.”
Decrying the “commercialisation of healthcare,” Posporis said he has asked the Health Insurance Organisation – the entity running Gesy – to provide data on the shareholders at each diagnostic centre, as well as information on where patients are sent, the type of incident (pathological or not), and which of these end up in surgeries.
“If we get some answers on this,” he stressed, “it would be a good push to fix the bad state of affairs.”
The auditor-general is meantime looking into the matter of ‘backhanders’ to doctors, Posporis said.
Chrysa Tziakouri, head of the Cyprus Radiological Society, cited a spike in referrals and in “non-targeted diagnoses at the expense of patients.”
The increased demand for such exams, she added, has driven the unit of compensation down, and as a result those diagnostic centres that do operate correctly take a financial hit and sometimes are unable to hire good-quality gear and specialised staff.
“It is the radiologists who enter into a contract normally with the HIO, and yet the HIO makes contracts with any centre, from anyone, be it a doctor or businessperson, without specific standards, without the application of the law and without any other criteria.”
Tziakouri went on to say that the HIO “pays everyone without a receipt and anyone who brings a machine that could be of any category.”
The head of the state doctors’ union Soteris Koumas said he was “alarmed” by the allegations heard.
Savvia Orfanidou, chairing the House health committee, pledged that parliament will continue following the matter closely, adding that the health ministry is finally preparing relevant legislation.
Greens MP Charalambos Theopemptou – who had tabled the issue for discussion – pointed out that no standards exist for the technicians handling MRI machines.