Czech Republic braces for mass departures of doctors

Disgruntled Czech hospital doctors on Monday began handing in their resignations in an attempt to force the government to increase their salaries. Some 3,800 of the country’s 16,000 physicians are expected to hand in notices by the end of the week, which is when the hospitals will get a clearer picture of what will happen in March, when the resignations take effect. But Heath Minister Leoš Heger has come up with one idea for the hospitals that might face crisis due to understaffing.

Leoš Heger, photo: CTK
If estimates by Czech doctors’ associations are accurate, hospitals in the regions of Vysočina, northern Moravia, and Zlín will be hit particularly hard by the planned mass departures of Czech doctors. In some facilities, such as the hospital in Nové Město na Moravě, some 70 percent of doctors are getting ready to leave, hoping that grass is greener on the other side of the Czech border, or that the government will finally give in to the pressure and increase their salaries by some 20 percent.

But if neither the government nor the doctors give in, these hospitals will be critically understaffed by March, which is when the resignations will take effect. In that case, Czech Health Minister Leoš Heger said, these hospitals would be transformed into a different type of facility.

“We could establish some type of first aid centres there that would function as places where the patient can be stabilized and prepared for transport. Rather than closing these hospitals down, they could also be transformed to aftercare hospitals or social and health care centres.”

Milan Štěch and Milan Kubek (right), photo: CTK
Even critics admit that the idea of transforming such hospitals might work. But it would not solve the problem of restricted health care elsewhere, should of all of those who have signed their resignations actually quit. Milan Kubek is the head of the Czech Medical Chamber, one of the associations representing Czech doctors.

“I’m not sure that people in the Czech Republic will be satisfied with such a strange solution. Frankly speaking, I cannot imagine some regions such as Vysočina, northern Moravia or Zlín will have no emergency care hospitals. There is of course a lack of long-term health care hospitals but I cannot see some many hospitals being transformed into such facilities.”

The government and hospital managers are hoping things will not go that far. Health Minister Heger has repeatedly suggested that doctors “come to their senses”. The authorities also believe that many fewer doctors than 3,800 will actually leave to work abroad. But Milan Kubek says it should not be that difficult for the government to satisfy the disgruntled doctors.

“We only need three billion crowns to meet the demands of doctors in hospitals. This sum amounts to about one percent of the annual total health care costs in the Czech Republic, and I think that it’s not very clever to go to war with doctors over such a small sum of money.”

For his part, Minister Heger insists it would cost the budget up to six billion crowns should all the demands be met. He also believes it is “impossible” to increase the salaries in one part of the public sector when all the others are suffering the effects of the government’s austerity measures.