The government has approved a plan to make it a criminal offence punishable by a prison sentence if a doctor refuses to work during a declared crisis, like the recent state of emergency this month that was brought on by mass protest resignations of doctors.
The legislative draft from the Ministry of Health, given the thumbs up yesterday by the government, will mean anyone working in the health service will have their right to strike limited, as the government can step in and halt strikes if there is an immediate “risk to human life and health”.
All going to plan, after 1 April 2012 when the revision should take force, the government will have more leverage over hospital doctors than they did during the recent disputes with doctors’ trade union LOZ, thanks to the constitutionally guaranteed right of the population to healthcare.
During the dispute, which ended only last week, some doctors went on sick leave and others refused to show up at work, even though a state of emergency had been put in place. If the new proposals go through, individual hospitals will decide whether sick leave is legitimate or not.
Disobedient doctors could therefore face fines of up to EUR 3,300, a possible 10-year suspension of licence and up to two years behind bars. In extreme cases where someone has been harmed or died as a result of their negligence, a five year jail sentence could be imposed.
At a press conference yesterday, health minister Ivan Uhliarik rejected claims that the changes were a way of intimidating healthcare workers after they forced the government into yielding to their demands recently.
Naturally, the draft bill has met with opposition from the medical community, with the Slovak Medical Chamber (SLK) demanding that the bill be subjected to interdepartmental revision proceedings first, at least.
Head of trade union LOZ, Marian Kollar, referred to the law as undemocratic and as putting us back decades. Kollar feels the draft is the payback for doctors standing up against the government and financial groups, but he does not believe it will be passed in parliament.