Czech military to step in during imminent hospital crisis

Photo: Czech Army

As the standoff continues between the Czech government and the doctors’ trade unions, the authorities have outlined an emergency scenario to avert the looming heath care crisis. If no deal is reached by March 1, when mass resignations of around 3,800 Czech hospital doctors take effect, the government will use medical capacities of the Czech military. The scenario also suggests that state-run teaching hospitals will be crucial in providing emergency health care.

Alexandr Vondra
The Czech government has outlined a crisis scenario that will be put in place if more than 3,800 hospital physicians fulfil their threats and quit their jobs by March 1. This includes brining in the Czech military to help fill the gaps in hospital care. After a meeting of the state emergency council with the country’s regional governors on Tuesday, Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra said in what ways the army can help.

“We have four military hospitals and a field hospital in Hradec Králové. As army officers, these doctors are ready to help cope with the situation. We surely cannot completely replace the outgoing doctors but we are ready to help. We can also help with transportation issues using army helicopters, ambulances and staff.”

However, the Czech army only has around 200 physicians and a few specialists in some of the fields most threatened by mass resignations, such as gynaecologists and obstetricians. The government is therefore planning to close those hospitals that will be worst affected by doctors’ resignations, and transfer their staff to facilities that will remain operational, particularly teaching hospitals that are run directly by the government.

By the end of February, these hospitals would start postponing any non-emergency procedures to free up their capacities. After a meeting with directors of teaching hospitals on Wednesday, Health Minister Leoš Heger described some of the measures that will be put in place.

“We will reorganize the system of hospital beds in these hospitals and make it less rigid, so that patients can be put up in various departments, regardless of their diagnosis. We will create a joint hospital bed fund, and arrange for a greater mobility of staff within each hospital.”

After talks between the government and doctors’ unions collapsed last week, some Czech hospitals tried striking their own deals with those physicians who handed in notices. But these efforts have been largely futile. A hospital in Plzeň offered to increase their doctors’ salaries in line with the union’s demands but doctors said they wanted a nationwide reform.

Leoš Heger  (left),  Prime Minister Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
Doctors’ unions are demanding up to three times higher salaries for hospital physicians but a government offer of an extra two billion crowns has fallen short of that.

So far, no further negotiations between the doctors and the government have been scheduled. Both sides say they are ready to sit down and talk but have shown no willingness to compromise.