Covid-19 prevented the adoption of quality checks within the national health scheme, an issue the new government plans to tackle, Health Minister Dr Popi Kanari said on Thursday.

There is an urgent need for continuous evaluation of existing procedures and practices for the qualitative development of such an important health reform, the minister said marking the four-year anniversary of Gesy.

However, she explained that soon after Gesy’s implementation, the conditions of the pandemic did not allow the adoption of the appropriate safeguards to ensure proper supervision and monitoring with qualitative criteria.

The health ministry, as the competent supervisory authority, “recognises these challenges and is working intensively to manage them effectively, guided by the best available practices in health policy making,” Kanari said.

Among the challenges are the control and supervision of Gesy and strict control on patients’ rights issues as well as the adequacy of pharmaceutical and medical devices.

So far, the health insurance organisation (HIO) has terminated the contracts of 11 medical specialists and other providers, of which eight were reported to the police over various abuses. The organisation also terminated the contracts of 15 laboratories which did not have a licence in cooperation with the laboratory superintendent.

On top of that, around 500 ex-officio investigations are in progress and expected to be completed by the end of this year.

For the minister, the ultimate goal is to identify and address the weaknesses, putting the patient at the centre of the policy while ensuring the sustainability of the system.

To this end, the health sector is being boosted with projects amounting to €47.7 million.

Meanwhile, the health insurance organisation (HIO), the body responsible for the monitoring and management of the system, faces many challenges while assessing its expected budget and the anticipated increased general state contribution.

As far as the State Health Services Organisation (Okypy) is concerned, the biggest challenge it has to face is that of financial and administrative autonomy, the minister said.

“The implementation of more effective organisational and control mechanisms is imperative,” she noted. Okypy has undertaken the implementation of development projects in the public hospitals with funding from the Recovery and Resilience Plan amounting to about €47.7 million.

Of these projects, some have been completed, such as the creation of a Covid unit at Famagusta general hospital, while others will be completed in stages, up to 2026.  The projects under review will substantially upgrade public hospitals, such as the new mental health hospital in Athalassa.

And the contribution of the health ministry is imperative for other actions, Kanari said. Those include modernising the existing legislation, accreditation of nursing homes to ensure quality health services, purchasing new innovative medical equipment and upgrading public hospitals, as well as the long-term assessment of health needs.

Another important aspect is to increase the number of specialised physicians registered in the scheme, the minister said, especially in specialities with high demand with the aim of reducing waiting lists.

“In line with the president’s strategic plan, the aim is to provide services that are people-centred and serve not just to manage illness, but above all, to promote health,” Kanari said.

In a separate statement marking the anniversary, the HIO underlined how it plans to strengthen the services provided and further improve the quality of Gesy.

Some of the organisation’s next steps include the expansion of services provided by speech therapists to children with autism, Down’s syndrome and everyone with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Two private accidents and emergency departments, in Nicosia and Limassol, will be included in the scheme this year, while home nursing care is also to be introduced for some chronic patients. This year, podiatrists will also start offering services under Gesy.

To improve quality services, HIO plans to introduce the second opinion policy for selected surgeries and implement quality criteria for inpatient services reimbursement. New technologies and innovative treatments are also to be integrated.

The first phase of the Gesy was launched on June 1, 2019 with the provision of outpatient health services, while a year later, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, phase two was implemented with the provision of inpatient health services.

The revenues of the General Health System Fund (GHSF) are derived from contributions, supplements, contributions, donations and bequests, and income from the assets and activities of the HIO.

According to official data, there are 943,978 beneficiaries registered in Gesy, of them, 806,900 visited their personal doctor during the past year of the scheme’s operation.

Most of them, 692,500 beneficiaries, have received medication while 611,200 have visited specialised doctors. Some 502,300 beneficiaries have undergone laboratory tests and 286,500 beneficiaries have visited dentists.

During the same period, 90,500 operations were performed.