How to clean up hospitals

MIDDLEMEN with their commissions do bigger harm than doctors who accept gifts.

Waiting rooms are full of patients, illustrative stock photoWaiting rooms are full of patients, illustrative stock photo (Source: Sme)

For foreigners living in Slovakia, there is a long list of cultural customs that they have to adopt before they can start feeling at home here. Yet these rarities are nowhere as puzzling as in the health-care system.

My first contact with Slovak hospitals came in the early 1990s, when new laws for foreigners started requiring us to prove we were not suffering from some terrible Western illness, most importantly AIDS.

And so we had to undergo various examinations, accompanied by young ladies who interpreted for us and who distributed chocolates and coffee among the doctors and nurses on our behalf. “This is the way things work here”, they told us.

Twenty years later, the bribes in the health-care system have not just remained firmly rooted – they are organised at the highest level and have defeated all efforts to limit them. The only difference is that small favours, chocolates and packages of coffee have been replaced in many instances by gifts in cash and outright bribes. Even more gravely, rigged tenders and special-interest laws suck hundreds of millions of euros out of all taxpayers’ pockets.

Doctors themselves are the least of our problems.

After all, if hospitals were not such sad, unhappy places and if the attention of their employees was easier to attract, maybe the desperate and sick people who put their hands into their pockets might not believe that a favour or a gift was the only way to secure humane treatment.

Much more harmful to society are the “businessmen” who charge 10 to 20 percent commission just for brokering a deal. They “earn” this money by doing little more than counting the cash, or perhaps even transferring it into the accounts of their political and financial patrons.

No less harmful are those bureaucratic fraudsters who set the parameters of such crooked tenders while knowing for sure that we will all end up paying many times more for CT devices or hospital food than their true cost.

It is high time for the corruption in health care to become the main issue of the election campaign.

Had it not been for the fact that many of those now calling for change displayed utter incompetence when they had the chance to change something, we might already be saying: “This need not be the way things work here”.

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