Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela on Thursday threatened to revoke the licences of doctors working in a private hospital in Nicosia who turned away two women in urgent need of medical treatment on Christmas Eve.

The first woman arrived at the private hospital with an aortic aneurysm and, without being seen to when she arrived, was immediately told to go to the A&E department of the Nicosia general hospital.

The second one arrived complaining of a severe gastroenterological issue but was told to visit a different private hospital because all the specialists at the premises were on leave.

Hadjipantela also spoke of a third incident that took place at an A&E department of a private hospital in another district on Wednesday night where a patient was told to seek help at a public hospital.

Commenting on the situation, Hadjipantela said that what happened was “unacceptable.”

“It is not right for doctors working in the same wings of private hospitals to go on leave at the same time leaving entire departments unstaffed and forcing patients to seek treatment elsewhere.

“I have already contacted the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO) and they assured me that exemplary penalties will be handed down upon the people responsible for sending away the patients,” he told the media during a visit to the Famagusta general hospital.

“It is not possible to send patients away and tell them that all doctors are on leave just because it is a holiday period. I took it upon myself to make sure that situations such as these do not happen again. Health issues do not stop at Christmas.

The minister said doctors cannot select specific cases and send the rest of them to already overburdened A&E departments, adding that the HIO must take responsibility for the issues.

He said the woman seeking treatment for her severe gastroenterological was turned away because both gastroenterologists working at the private hospitals went on vacation during the same period.

“I personally spoke to one of the gastroenterologists in questions and he told me he is sorry for what happened and that the patient was told to seek treatment at the A&E.

“Let this be a reminder of why public hospitals are so full during these days. It is also because doctors who should do their jobs, decide to go on holiday instead. This will no longer be tolerated.”

Responding to a reporter’s comment that many patients go to the public A&Es because their personal doctors do not respond either, the minister acknowledged that “unfortunately some personal doctors also do not respond”.

Hadjipantela said that before taking any decision on the fate of the doctors under fire, he will have to examine the situation carefully and collect statements corroborating the two women’s claims.

“I have already touched base with the HIO regarding the situation and I expect them to show the necessary strictness in this unpleasant and unacceptable situation,” he said.

The head of the federation of Cyprus patients’ associations (Osak) Marios Kouloumas said what happened on Christmas Eve is simply unacceptable.

“Doctors working at private clinics cannot choose what cases they see to based on personal interest. It is time for someone at the HIO to take responsibility and put an end to this absurd practice.

Hadjipantela said there would be checks by the ministry of health and if any of these private hospitals do not meet the provisions of the legislation, their operating licences would be pulled. “We do not play with health issues and do not decide to close departments because of holidays”.

“It is unthinkable that patients in need urgent medical care are sent away from hospitals because doctors are on leave”.