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Our View: GPs need to stand firm for wait lists to get shorter

Gesy, hospital, healthcare, doctor, nurses

Health Minister Popi Kanari, concerned about the long waiting times for appointments with specialist doctors, met bosses of the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO) to discuss ways of reducing these. The HIO asked for more time to discuss the matter with the groups representing different medical specialists and come up with proposals. The minister expected these consultations to be completed in a few weeks.

People have been complaining about the long waiting times for appointments with certain types of specialists for quite some time. Okypy, after meeting the minister, arranged that for medical specialties for which there is high demand, doctors would also see patients in the afternoons. While this may ease the patient congestion at public hospitals there would still be long waits for other specialist doctors.

It could be said that long waiting times to see specialist doctors are inevitable in a free healthcare system – people cannot expect to see someone whenever they please when demand is high and the supply of doctors is limited. There were discussions about priority being given to patients in urgent need of treatment, but could such a measure be implemented fairly? Given how things work in Cyprus and the tendency for bending the rules, such a system could be abused by many.

When the problem was being discussed in the past, the HIO had urged personal doctors not to sign so many referrals to specialists. Many of these were unnecessary but allowed personal doctors to pass on the treatment of their patients to someone else. The blame was not exclusively with them, because there are plenty of patients not trusting the diagnosis of a personal doctor and demanding a referral to a specialist. It is the sense of patient entitlement that has flourished under Gesy; there are patients who demand all sorts of unnecessary treatment because it is free.

While the HIO has been placing restrictions on referrals to specialists, this is not enough. It must ensure that personal doctors, as the gatekeepers of the health system, act as such and avoid signing off referrals that can be treated by any general practitioner. If referrals to specialists were made only when a patient suffered from a condition that the personal doctor was unable to treat there would be much less demand for seeing a specialist and shorter waiting times for an appointment.

The HIO is aware of this, but it seems the referrals are still too many. Pressure from patients is part of the problem, but the problem will be eased only if personal doctors are less inclined to give in to them. The wait for an appointment with a specialist would not disappear because of this, but it would be shortened, which should be the objective.

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