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Physicians threaten mass resignations

SLOVAK physicians are moving one step closer to carrying out their threat to submit mass resignation notices to their employers to demonstrate their frustration over poor pay and low status, following the example of Czech doctors who used a similar tactic earlier this year. The Medical Trade Unions Association (LOZ) stated on August 25 that the union will go forward with the actual collection of resignation notices signed by physicians. The head of LOZ, Marian Kollár, said that 3,827 physicians from 51 hospitals have shown their willingness to submit a resignation notice.

SLOVAK physicians are moving one step closer to carrying out their threat to submit mass resignation notices to their employers to demonstrate their frustration over poor pay and low status, following the example of Czech doctors who used a similar tactic earlier this year. The Medical Trade Unions Association (LOZ) stated on August 25 that the union will go forward with the actual collection of resignation notices signed by physicians. The head of LOZ, Marian Kollár, said that 3,827 physicians from 51 hospitals have shown their willingness to submit a resignation notice.

“We have gained absolute support from the majority of physicians in Slovakia’s hospitals,” Kollár stated, as reported by the SITA newswire, adding that he believes that every physician who signed the declaration prepared by LOZ – which counts 2,000 members out of approximately 18,000 physicians across Slovakia – would sign a resignation notice.

Kollár estimated that given the two-month notice period, Slovakia’s hospitals could lose about 4,000 physicians by October. LOZ also stated that patients have nothing to fear and that the physicians believe they will find public support for their demands.

In response to the physicians’ complaints, the Ministry of Health said in May that it did not expect en masse submission of resignation notices, saying that that it had been engaging in intense dialogue with all health-care stakeholders and that the trade unions had given no indication of a plan to submit en masse notices during those meetings.

The physicians have been calling for strict observance of the restrictions on working hours contained in the Labour Code, a halt in the government’s plans to transform state-owned hospitals into joint-stock companies and a gradual increase in health-care workers’ salaries so that they reach between 1.5 and three times the average wage by 2013, depending on qualifications.

Kollár said that the unions are focused on their demands as a package and if the mass resignations are to be stopped the Ministry of Health needs to meet all of their demands. Nevertheless, the ministry is continuing to insist on transforming state-owned hospitals into joint stock companies.

The spokeswoman for the health ministry, Katarina Zollerová, stated in May that the ministry agrees with most of the demands of health-care workers, such as respect for the Labour Code, resolving hospitals’ debts and higher salaries. But she stated that paying off the debts of the hospitals goes hand in hand with transforming the hospitals into joint-stock companies, which she said the trade unions continue to reject.

“The bad management of the hospitals can be blamed on the fact that these work as budgetary organisations, lacking transparency and effectiveness,” Zollerová told The Slovak Spectator, adding that hospitals that were transformed into state-run, joint-stock companies in 2006 are functioning with balanced budgets because they must maintain transparent accounting, publish their closing books and undergo audits.

But Kollár said he doubts that the hospitals transformed joint-stock companies could work within balanced budgets because they will still be dependent on payments from health insurers, which he said do not pay hospitals the actual costs for care performed, the SITA newswire reported.

The Ministry of Health has said it views it as unethical and inappropriate for physicians to use patients as hostages during negotiations over how to resolve the vexing issues in the health-care sector.

“The physicians are late by at least four years when under the previous government no progress was made within the health ministry,” Zollerová stated in May, adding that the current government is faced with debts in the health-care sector that exceed €200 million.

Both physicians and nurses are demanding more funding for hospitals from the state budget and they have said that these resources can be found within programmes that provide accident and sick leave insurance or from excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

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