"Black hole" in healthcare in Greece

The “black hole” in the Greek healthcare system is called, not without sarcasm, the lack of doctors and nurses.

Temporary government measures act like a pain reliever, not a permanent cure for a “bleeding wound” in the healthcare system, experts say, pointing to a glaring case – the cancellation of the most difficult and life-saving operation, a liver transplant, because … there was no anesthesiologist!

With “bonuses”, allowances and recruitment of medical staff, the leadership of the Ministry of Health is trying to close the gap in the country’s hospitals (inpatient and outpatient). Against all odds, successive crises (pandemic and financial) have created suffocating working conditions for doctorsresulting in the simultaneous growing wave of discontent and layoffs.

The news about a liver transplant at the Hippocrates Hospital in Thessaloniki, which was canceled due to the lack of an anesthetist, is just the tip of the iceberg, according to experts from the National Health Service.

grim reality

The neurosurgeon of the hospital in Nikiya and the general secretary of the Federation of Hospital Doctors (Ομοσπονδίας Νοσοκομειακών Γιατρών (ΟΕΝΓΕ) Panayiotis Papanikolaou, in harsh terms, describes a grim reality in a conversation with Vima.

“There is a massive wave of layoffs in four categories of specialists. The first concerns old, permanent doctors over 60 years of age who cannot stand the harsh working conditions. The second – younger specialists, on average about 45 years old. Even more worrying is that they are serving on the islands and in difficult “critical” regions.

The reason, according to him, is “legislative norms, on the basis of which it is beneficial for a pathologist or pediatrician to resign from the NHS and open a private practice. Thus, he is released from the obligation to be in the service up to 20 days a month, and at the same time have a much larger salary.

But the list of those leaving the National Health Service doesn’t end there. The tendency of young specialists to look for better paid jobs abroad remains unchanged.

However, the “black hole” is also increasing due to retirement (estimated at about 700 people per year), while recruitment remains numerically lower than the resulting need.

The example of the Syros hospital is illustrative. Since 2011, 62 retirements have been accumulated (which will be 67 in 2022), while only 17 people have been hired permanently (of which 1 has been transferred), according to a statement from the Warwakeio Hospital Workers Union. And in the cardiology clinic, the intensive care unit (ICU) and the children’s clinic, there is a severe shortage of nursing staff.

Real Needs

According to Mr. Papanicolaou, there are 5,500 vacant full-time positions of qualified doctors, while, according to him, the real need rises to 8,500 people.

As for other staff (including nurses), “full-time vacant posts are 26,000–27,000 and the actual need is as high as 35,000.” In this light, the 4000 upcoming recruitment of nurses and 700 doctors is just a “respite”.

The most characteristic and egregious phenomenon for the national health system has been the shortage of anesthesiologists. According to Ενωση Νοσοκομειακών Ιατρών Θεσσαλονίκης, ΕΝΙΘ, 9 permanent doctors work here, while there are 27 positions, and the actual need reaches 40 permanent anesthesiologists.

The reason: Medical graduates talk about a heavy workload and a small salary, and qualified ones are looking for a way out of this situation in the private healthcare sector. There is no comparison between wages in the public and private sector, since the monthly income even exceeds 5,000 euros in the clinics of the country, while in Cyprus the corresponding salary reaches 8,000 euros.

Recognizing the problem, the leadership of the Ministry of Health is trying to reverse the “difficult” intractable situation.

In particular, the authorities are providing anesthesiologists with an emergency monthly allowance of 400 euros until the end of 2022, which will be extended in 2023. At the same time, the right to receive a second specialty in the field of anesthesiology was granted to doctors who see their future as more positive and do not intend to leave their homeland.

However, an allowance of 250 euros is also provided for those who already specialize in this much-needed medical specialty.

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