Extensive coverage was given by the media to the news conference given by the Federation of Patients Associations of Cyprus (Osak) on Monday, during which it attacked the government for, among other things, interfering in the Gesy budget, “strangling” the reform of the health sector and trying to get its hands on the Health Insurance Organisation’s (HIO) reserves which were building up. Osak also castigated the government’s refusal to set up an independent ambulance service and the ‘patient’s advocate’.

Predictably, most of the media endorsed Osak’s outburst, making it a front-page lead story. Phileleftheros’ headline claimed the patients were “trembling for the millions of Gesy” and highlighted the “warning about the reserves,” while Haravghi announced that “patients are putting the government in the dock about Gesy.” It is quite astonishing that what is essentially a small pressure group, with no expertise in health service issues, other than to make continuous demands of Gesy, is being presented by the media as an authority on how a national service should be run.

First of all, nobody knows who these self-appointed guardians of so-called patients represent. Most importantly, they have a very limited understanding, if any, of public finances, and the structure of healthcare services. Their only concern being that healthcare is provided on demand, regardless of financial costs. It works on the assumption that resources are unlimited and that Gesy has an obligation to cover patients’ every need, without any waiting time. Because Osak is represented on the Gesy board – from which doctors are banned – they expect to be treated as health experts and they are.

Another complaint voiced on Thursday was that the government allocated a paltry €350,000 for the annual cost of people accompanying a patient abroad for treatment, when Osak was demanding a total of €5m. It even criticised the government for not approving 56 new posts at the HIO, the Gesy paymasters, because it has also acquired an expertise on how the public service should be structured and for delaying the creation of a national cancer institute.

For Osak’s experts, finances are not a factor that must be considered in Gesy planning. The reality is that if Osak’s proposals were heeded the HIO would run out of money in the very near future and bigger contributions would be needed from individuals and businesses to keep Gesy afloat. Finance Minister Makis Keravnos was also slammed for warning that Gesy was the second biggest danger for public finances, a warning also issued by his predecessor. A finance minister is not even allowed to call for caution on health spending and warn of the dangers of this veering out of control, something that would be inevitable if Osak’s recommendations were followed.

It is high time that things were put in perspective. The government must make it clear that Gesy must operate within strict financial constraints and that it will improve gradually. There is no other way to ensure the long-term viability of the national health service. Osak has no legitimacy or expertise to dictate how Gesy should be run.