It was no surprise to read that in 2022, social protection and healthcare expenditure, which encompasses inpatient and outpatient care, medicines and sickness benefits, measured as a percentage of GDP, stood at 6 per cent in Cyprus compared with the EU average of 8.1 per cent.
Cyprus is by no means the worst on the list but it had also decreased. Overall, the EU average spend has dropped across the bloc, possibly due to the demise of Covid between 2020 and 2022, although France with 10 per cent, and Germany with 9.7 per cent are leading the way.
Lending some credence to the statistics, one only needs to see that despite frequent declarations from the state on the priority of healthcare, a number of issues have arisen in only the past week that belie that as MPs discuss the 2024 budgets for various ministries.
We heard that there was no provision in the budget for the promised creation of a National Cancer Institute and that the upgrading of the Athalassa psychiatric hospital had slowed to the point of becoming a disgrace.
We also heard MPs from the House health committee saying they would send a letter to the president requesting that €4 million be included in the state budget for 2024 to support relatives of patients receiving treatment abroad, many of whom are children.
Apparently, the health ministry had only requested €350,000 from the finance ministry to cover living expenses of relatives or parents who are often forced to give up work to accompany their children. These expenses would include air tickets, food, transportation to and from the hospital, and accommodation, sometimes for extended periods.
A 2020 study on the whole issue indicated that the required funding to support families abroad would amount to €4 million. Around 1,200 patients a year are sent abroad but only around 10 per cent currently have these expenses covered by the government. According to the Green Party’s response, some families are forced to sell their homes “because the state cannot provide the necessary treatments”. Given that the numbers sent abroad on average every year, are known, “reasonably, one wonders what research the ministry of health did to only ask for €350,000 from the budget,” the party said.
At the same time, there have been a multitude of scandals about people, doctors and patients alike, milking the system and leaving less to spread around. One MP dared to imagine perhaps improving healthcare would reduce the need for patients to go abroad. But with Cyprus also predicted to run low on doctors in the next five years due to an increasingly aging register, it is likely that even more patients will have to be sent abroad in the coming years.
When you compare this haggling for healthcare spending with the smooth ride MPs recently gave the defence ministry budget of €553.1 million, we might wonder if they could maybe have thought to sacrifice a few new tanks in order to throw a couple of million over to where’s it’s badly needed?