State doctors are going forward with a two-hour work stoppage on Wednesday to protest what they call “unworkable conditions” in public hospitals, but there are already cracks in their united front.
The Health Ministry issued a statement asking the public to skip any scheduled appointments in state hospitals between 10am and 12pm on Wednesday, following a decision by Pasyki union calling on state medics to go on strike.
The strike comes in the wake of tragic events, including the death of 10-year-old Stavros Georgallis who died Friday form a head injury, after doctors at Larnaca General Hospital allegedly failed to properly evaluate an X-ray.
Despite public criticism and calls from Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou not to go forward with the strike, a meeting on Tuesday between doctors and the minister did not yield any results.
Only real emergencies during strike
State medics will be on standby only for real emergencies, with patients being warned not to seek medical assistance in the ER unless there is a real emergency during the two hour strike.
The Cyprus Medical Association will join Pasyki for a press conference during the strike, while there are some disagreements as to how the aftermath of the school boy’s death was handled and how it ought to relate to the strike.
But there are cracks in the state doctors’ united front.
Paphos disagrees with work stoppage
The Cardiology department at the Paphos General Hospital announced that it would not go on strike Wednesday morning, asking patients to visit the hospital regularly as they would any other day.
The Director of Cardiology at Paphos General, Joseph Moutiris, criticised the strike, calling it “untimely” and "without basis".
“This is taking place at the wrong time and without any real reason that could provide a basis for such action,” Moutiris was quoted in local media.
The decision was based on a desire to avoid causing further inconvenience to patients or adding to the burden on the public health system, the chief cardiologist said.
The head of the ER at Paphos General, Neophyta Chrysanthou, also did not take part in the strike, saying patients are not to blame for the problems that have piled up in the public health industry.
Pasyki strikes days after school boy’s death
The strike comes in the wake of Georgallis' death on Friday, widely described as a result of possible gross medical negligence, with three seperate investigations ongoing by the police, as well as the health and education ministries.
The boy was released into the care of his mother, who accused the doctors and the public health system of incompetence. She believes a delay in giving proper care to her boy was responsible for his death, following a second trip to the ER when doctors tried to save the boy but it was too late.
Two Larnaca state doctors are facing charges of gross medical negligence, following revelations that they did not consult with the radiologist on duty in Stavros’ case. They were remanded in custody but are expected to go free as medical groups strongly criticised the arrest as unnecessary.
The Cyprus Medical Association spoke out against the arrest of the two doctors, saying there was no need for them to be handcuffed, while saying the investigation ought to go forward and those responsible be held accountable.
Vassos Economou, the head of the CMA's ethics committee, said there is a need in Cyprus for a special committee, with legal and medical experts, who could examine such cases in a timely manner.
Health debate rages on
Pasyki says they have been warning the government that there could be deaths in public hospitals due to what they describe as very difficult working conditions and lack of staff.
“This is to protest the working environment in the public health sector and issue a call for improving employment conditions, it’s not a financial issue as some claim,” Pasyki president Sotiris Koumas said.
The minister says the government has taken a number of measures to help doctors in state hospitals while steps leading to the implementation of a long-awaited National Health Scheme (NHS) are also being taken.
Ioannou said measures included increasing the number of doctors in state hospitals, providing monetary incentives to ER medics aimed at increasing productivity, and maintaining a budget that has been the highest since 2012.
But state medics insist that no changes would be meaningful without first securing their rights, prompting the union to condemn proposals that would reward doctors based on individual skill and actual work output instead of credentials ranked on a collective scale.
Pasyki has been at odds with the current government administration, who often called on doctors to accept administrative changes that would lead to the introduction of NHS that would improve healthcare in Cyprus as well as provide solutions to their problems.