Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou held a press conference to address criticism over his actions and ask state doctors to pay no attention to those who oppose reform in the industry.
Ioannou addressed a group of reporters on Thursday in the wake of the tragic death of 10-year-old Stavros Georgallis, a student at a Larnaca school who died of head trauma last Friday without doctors diagnosing promptly the extent of his injury.
The incident shocked public opinion and two Larnaca doctors were arrested, who were subsequently released on bail and face charges of gross negligence and medical malpractice.
Days later, on Wednesday, state doctors union pasyki went on a two-hour strike to protest working conditions in state hospitals but also stand against the handcuffing of the two doctors.
“The truth is that even now I have yet to understand the justification behind the two-hour strike yesterday”
The minister told reporters on Thursday that the union was oversimplifying the issue, reiterating his position that the tragic death incident was separate from the problems in state hospitals.
“The truth is that even now I have yet to understand the real causes behind the two-hour strike yesterday,” Ioannou said, adding that he was careful not to give the impression that he would ever overlook the inalienable right of any union to take action.
“I want to be clear, when there are real reasons and dialogue has been exhausted, then unions have the right to decide together how to go about defending the rights of their members,” he added.
The minister did not shy away from the chronic problems in public health, which he attributed to a system that is “archaic and ineffective” while at the same time dismissing efforts that try to negate any positive changes, citing two historic bills including legislation on turning state hospitals into autonomous health centres.
While admitting that his use of the phrase “investigate possible negligence” appeared to have bothered some people, Ioannou defended his actions in the Larnaca case, saying the investigation must go forward.
He also called on state doctors all around Cyprus to support the effort to reform state hospitals, arguing that unions ought to have a greater role in giving input on issues such as best practices, staff evaluations, disciplinary oversight, and working hours.
“We, the government, were the first to call out the ineffectiveness of this system and this is why we move forward to charge it,” the minister said.
The government managed to pass two bills in the previous term, which paved the way to change state hospitals from being centralised and inflexible to autonomous units with more flexibility to address problems in a fast-pace environment.
But unions find that some changes do not protect the rights of their members, with Ioannou responding that he is open to dialogue as long as changes can be more productive.