Long waiting lists for specialised treatments on Gesy are “a lever for the financial exploitation” of patients, Gesy’s supervision commissioner Eugenia Efstathiou said on Monday.

Efstathiou was speaking at the House human rights committee and explained that many patients who require specialised treatments end up, due to long waiting lists, being referred outside of Gesy and are therefore billed for the treatment they receive.

With this in mind, she added that the issue of long waiting lists has now extended to impact non-Gesy health services.

Health Minister Michalis Damianos was also present at the meeting and said the Health Insurers’ Organisation (HIO) is preparing protocols to categorise appointments with specialists under the Gesy umbrella so that emergency appointments can be scheduled as a priority.

He added that such protocols are expected to be completed “within days and not weeks”.

In response to Efstathiou’s comments about patients potentially being exploited, he said “any illegal actions in the context of Gesy’s operations will be examined in cooperation with the HIO, and there must be exemplary punishment so as to deter others.”

He said the matter of waiting lists is “a complex problem” and said that while some aspects of it can be dealt with immediately, others will require long-term handling.

The matter of reforming Cyprus’ health sector, he said, is unfinished business, with bills set to be submitted to parliament within the year “to give healthcare providers the tools to do their jobs more properly, so we can provide a comprehensive health service in our country.”

One of the most prominent bills set to be submitted this year, he said, is that regarding the creation of a “patients’ advocate”.

“The patients’ advocate will, among other responsibilities, be able to assess whether a health institution complies with the law,” Damianos explained.

This move was greeted at the meeting by Federation of Patients’ Associations of Cyprus (Osak) chairman Marios Charalambides, who said the patients’ advocate “will make sure efforts will be made to ensure the rights of patients”.

He added that the creation of the role “is not just about managing complaints, but also about ensuring the quality of life and access to care of those who have suffered an illness”.