The Health Insurance Organisation (HIO) warned on Monday that the absence of adequate infrastructure for elderly care could compromise the effective functioning of the healthcare system in Cyprus.

A report released by the HIO last week warned of the lack of specialised care facilities for patients, especially the elderly, who cannot return home after hospital treatment, and said it is currently hampering the operation of hospitals around the island.

“Hospitals operating with the national health scheme Gesy are facing significant challenges as they often have to retain patients longer than necessary because their families either cannot or refuse to transfer them to other facilities, whether care homes or private residences,” the report said, adding that the situation results in unnecessary occupancy of hospital beds, delaying the admission and treatment of other patients.

“The efficiency of the system is compromised as hospital beds are not used optimally, being occupied by services essentially outside the system,” the HIO report continued, adding that public hospitals managed by the State Health Services Organisation (Okypy), mostly bear the brunt of the repeated overstays. The average length of stay in public hospitals is approximately five days, compared to the two and a half in private hospitals and clinics.

According to reports on local media, the escalating problem prompted the HIO to find solutions, such as charging patients for each additional day they stay after their discharge, as determined by their attending physician. The move would be intended to push the patients’ families to find alternative care arrangements promptly.

However, the news that patients could be charged for their overstay in hospitals was denied on Monday by the HIO, which said the organisation does not have the power, nor the will to do so.

“The HIO has never charged patients for staying in hospital longer than either necessary or anticipated,” an organisation spokesperson told the Cyprus Mail.

“This goes directly against our directives and our principles too.”

That said, the spokesperson admitted that the overstay of patients, particularly as far as public hospitals are concerned, is an ongoing issue, both for the HIO and for the health ministry.

“This topic is being constantly discussed and there are ongoing attempts to improve the situation, because it urgently needs rectifying.”