THE DAY when around 2,000 hospital doctors may not show up to work is now only four days away, but even over the last weekend before the doctors’ resignations become effective on December 1 the cabinet and the Medical Trade Unions Association (LOZ) were unable to resolve the entangled situation they have ended up in after many rounds of unsuccessful talks.
Prime Minister Iveta Radičová announced on November 24 after her meeting with LOZ representatives that she was no longer willing to negotiate with the LOZ. Instead, she wanted the cabinet to turn directly to the doctors.
The cabinet was convened for an extraordinary session on November 26 to discuss the eventuality that a state of emergency could be declared to solve the crisis, as President Ivan Gašparovič had suggested earlier.
“Neither the cabinet nor the president can afford to wait until someone dies just because they weren’t treated appropriately,” Gašparovič said on November 26, suggesting that unless the situation is resolved, a state of emergency should be declared earlier than December 1.
State of emergency still an option
Radičová signed the memorandum which the cabinet proposed to the LOZ on November 25 and said that if the LOZ representatives refuse to add their signature to the document, she will accept the President’s call and the cabinet will declare state of emergency, under which the doctors will be obliged to go to work. Any violation of the duty is considered a criminal act.
“I beg the doctors to reconsider their decision,” Radičová said.
Salaries still appear to be the main obstacle to reaching an agreement. The LOZ originally required, in a memorandum which they proposed on November 23, to have their salaries increased to 1.35 – 2.7 times the average salary in the country, depending on the experience and level of expertise of each doctor, from January 1, 2012, and a further increase to 1.5 – 3.0 times the average salary from April 1, 2012. The cabinet, however, proposed in its version of the memorandum that the first increase should be to 1.05 – 1.6 times the average salary and the second increase to 1.5 – 3.0 times the average salary.
Radičová and Health Minister Ivan Uhliarik have stressed repeatedly that this is the highest increase they can afford to offer the doctors, given financial constraints and the mandate of the interim cabinet.
LOZ rejected the cabinet’s memorandum, saying that “it doesn’t even guarantee what the cabinet presents”. LOZ representatives accuse the cabinet in a statement published online that the final increase is unlikely to be that stated in the memorandum, because if the doctors’ salary bases are increased, the hospitals could compensate by cutting off their additional payments.
Addressing the doctors
While the LOZ representatives in hospitals continue to call on doctors to hold on in the protest and “not get corrupted by €300”, the Health Ministry has distributed a document titled Minister’s Order to all state-run hospitals. The prime minister called on the ministry to issue such an order in the cabinet’s memorandum that she signed on November 25.
In the document the health minister orders the hospital directors to prepare appendices to contracts for all doctors working in their respective hospitals, which will increase the salaries of doctors in such a way that as of January 1, 2012 their salary bases will be increased by €200 on average, with the result that no doctor should earn less than €807, and as of April 1, 2012 by another €100 on average, to guarantee a minimum of €900 to each doctor.
The increase would be differentiated so that it reflects the level of education, experience and expertise of the doctors. The minister also ordered that the increase should not be compensated by lowering other parts of the doctor’s salaries.
As of the morning of November 28 the directors had the appendices ready and doctors were asked to sign them and withdraw their resignations.
The cabinet will convene for its next extraordinary session this evening, November 28, and minister Uhliarik is expected to sum up the remaining number of resignations then.
Speaking in the early afternoon of November 28 Uhliarik did not specify how many doctors had signed the appendices. But newswire reports from Slovakia’s regions, particularly Trnava, Levice, Topoľčany, Nové Zámky, and the most critical northern-Slovak region with hospitals in Trstená, Dolný Kubín, Čadca and Liptovský Mikuláš, suggested doctors were proving rather persistent in their protest. On the other hand, all 33 doctors who originally filed resignation notices in the Skalica hospital have withdrawn them by the afternoon of November 28, the TASR newswire reported.
According to the numbers, the cabinet will then determine which hospitals remain the most troublesome and will potentially need what the cabinet called plan B on Thursday, December 1.
Plan B involves an irreversible cancellation of some wards, the deployment of military and private doctors, hiring of doctors from abroad and also the cancellation of some hospitals as a last-resort solution.
Minister Uhliarik has preliminarily asked his counterparts in surrounding countries to help Slovakia in the event that the crisis situation really arises on Thursday, he told a press briefing on November 28.
As of the noon of Wednesday, November 30, each state-run hospital will run a non-stop hotline for patients to request information about whether their doctor is working and about the schedule of planned surgeries and examinations.
28. Nov 2011 at 15:30 | Michaela Terenzani