The Slovak health service could be about to derail as the caretaker government of PM Iveta Radicova goes ahead with the transformation of hospitals into joint stock companies, despite calls from President Ivan Gasparovic to halt it and despite thousands of doctors resignations, which could cripple hospitals throughout the country from 1 December.
The President wants to leave the issue up to the new government following the March 2012 elections, but health minister Ivan Uhliarik wants to go ahead with the plan, and so around 24 hospitals could be transformed by the end of the year, while the remaining 7 would be prepared for the new government to finish the process in June 2012.
After it failed a confidence vote in parliament within its own ranks, the cabinet was designated by President Gasparovic as the interim government, but with the limitation that it could not deal with key social and economic issues. The precise definition of this is not determined, though, and so the government is refusing to heed the wishes of the President.
Halting the transformation of hospitals is one of the four demands put forward by doctors for them to recall their resignations, which means if it goes ahead many wards and departments will have to close down or will have serious operational problems, because around 2,400 doctors will stop working on 1 December (more than one third of all doctors in hospitals).
The doctors trade union organisation LOZ says no progress has been made in talks with the minister, who is claiming that he has already convinced around 300 doctors to take back their resignations. Head of LOZ Marian Kollar says this is not true and that only 141 had taken them back, while an additional 116 had joined the campaign.
The minister says that if the resignations are not withdrawn then hospitals will have to work in a sort of crisis mode, with departments being fused together, a 3-shift system being adopted and only acute cases being dealt with. This is against the Constitution, says the trade union, as that guarantees complete healthcare and not just acute healthcare.
Trade union head Kollar said he is confident that they will be able to convince acting PM Iveta Radicova and President Ivan Gasparovic to stop the transformation of hospitals altogether. Doctors are also calling for higher salaries, better working conditions and more money for the health service overall, and they want all four demands to be met before resignations are withdrawn.
Although a special expert group will be looking at doctors salaries tomorrow and the LOZ trade union wants to present to the Ministry its own proposals as an alternative to transforming hospitals, the already stretched hospitals could find themselves turning hundreds of patients away in December, as there seems to be no common agreement on the horizon between the doctors and the Ministry of Health.