Nurses fumed on Monday over reported plans to reduce the minimum Greek language requirement for third country nationals who wish to practise nursing in Cyprus.

Trade union Pasydy expressed “strong concern and disquiet” over the reported plans.

“We cannot allow people’s safety and the quality of healthcare provided to be sacrificed on the altar of serving financial interests by disregarding the human factor and placing the patient second,” they said.

They pointed out that the current law designates the Cyprus Nursing and Midwifery Council as the competent body which determines the “minimum safe level” of knowledge of the Greek language for nurses whose first language is not Greek.

The council then signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Cyprus’ Greek language school to determine the minimum safe level.

With this in mind, they said they would convene a meeting on Friday to discuss the alleged plans, with representatives from the federation of patients’ associations (Osak) also set to be present.

The controversy arose over plans announced last week by Health Minister Michael Damianos to fill gaps in Cyprus’ nursing workforce with nurses from third countries.

Nurses’ union Pasyno chairman Christos Christodoulou last week insisted that the existing law “must be applied without exceptions” as it relates to Greek language requirements.

“We always demand strict adherence to the law regarding the qualifications and criteria for registering a nurse in the professional registry. One of these criteria is a good knowledge of the Greek language,” he said.

“If a nurse, whether from the European Union or a third country, meets this requirement and their education ensures the quality of services we demand, they can provide services to Cypriot patients.”

The plans to import nurses from abroad were unveiled after the employers’ and industrialists’ federation (Oev) had warned that some clinics could be forced to suspend their operations if Cyprus’ nursing shortage “is not resolved immediately” at the end of last month.

They had said Cyprus’ nursing needs have “proven to be unable to me bet either by the local or by the European labour market” and cited similar nursing shortages faced by countries across the European Union.

For this reason, they said, the “only way out” is for nurses to be hired from third countries, and for third country nationals who study nursing in Cyprus to be “utilised” in the domestic market.

Various sources have said Cyprus is around 500 nurses short of the minimum required to cover all the gaps in the country’s health service, with this number set to increase as nurses retire.

Fears of staff shortages also came about weeks after Pasydy’s nursing branch had said nurses are “often treated with contempt” in Cyprus.

Earlier, nurses’ union Pasyno and the European Federation of Nurses’ Associations had penned a joint letter to Michael Damianos expressing concern regarding training of nurses in Cyprus in relation to the European Union’s mutual recognition of standards and professional qualifications.

Their concerns relate to the planned reduction of the number of hours in Cyprus required to train a nurse to 3,800. Such a reduction would not comply with the EU minimum of 4,600 hours, which nurses say could endanger patient safety and will infringe upon their human rights.

In the letter, they said Cypriot nurses’ EU freedom of movement “will be jeopardised if we discard the directive”, as their qualifications would no longer be recognised as having met the minimum European standards.

In addition, they said, research carried out over the last three decades “shows that a 10 per cent reduction in nurses’ education increases patient mortality by seven per cent”.