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Our View: Doctors union has reminded health authorities who is really in charge

The Health Insurance Organisation (HIO), the State Health Services (Okypy) and the minister of health were served a reminder of who is in charge of healthcare policy in Cyprus. The ultimate say rests with the public sector doctors, who can stop the introduction of any new policy by threatening a strike as they had done on Wednesday with regard to the weekend operation of clinics. All that was needed was the threat of a three-hour strike for everything to be put on hold and for the health authorities to return to the drawing board.

After a meeting he called to deal with the matter, health minister Michalis Hadjipantela said a committee would be set up under the Cyprus Medical Association “to examine all the medical issues relating to the operation of weekend clinics.” Had HIO and Okypy announced the opening of weekend clinics without examining the medical issues or was this just thought up by the minister to save face over the postponement?

The head of the HIO Andreas Papaconstantinou said the matter of weekend clinics was part of discussions for three years, while there had been consultations with all the scientific companies for the last three months. He also, quite rightly said it was not the job of the HIO to engage in talks with the unions of the public sector doctors – the organisation was buying services from Okypy, which is in charge of the hospitals.

The government doctors’ union, Pasyki came up with some absurd excuses for its strike threat – there had to be a structured, productive dialogue that would have secured the quality of the services offered to patients, said union boss, Dr Sotiris Koumas. More importantly, the Okypy proposal “was mockery of the medical community and violated its workers’ rights,” said Koumas. Was he referring to the government doctors’ right to demand maximum pay for giving the go-ahead to weekend clinics?

He did not say this in his public comments, but it could be an issue. What Koumas did say was that his union objected to personal doctors from the private sector working in the weekend clinics as these belonged to the state hospitals. But do the government doctors own the public hospitals to dictate who will work in the clinics? Is he not always complaining of shortages of medical staff at hospitals? How would the overworked hospital doctors staff the weekend clinics?

Maintaining its monopoly interests Pasyki more than anything and it is very disappointing that neither Okypy nor the HIO is making an issue out of it. Perhaps, once they secure the right to monopolise the clinics government doctors could threaten a strike to secure higher pay as well. The demand must be turned down, if only to restrict Pasyki’s powers.

The minister said that next Wednesday a final decision would be announced. We hope this not a signal that the government will order the satisfaction of Pasyki’s demand.


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