Doctors go for broke in standoff with government

Leoš Heger, photo: CTK

Hopes of a compromise solution to the looming crisis in the Czech health sector dimmed on Monday when a meeting between the health minister and trade union leaders ended in deadlock. The health minister accused doctors of paving the road to hell in defense of their narrow, selfish interests, while doctors countered that the ministry was not playing above board.

Leoš Heger, photo: CTK
Only last week it seemed that the government had found a solution to the looming health crisis – a plan to scrap 10,000 non-essential hospital beds was to save 2 billion crowns for salary-hikes in state hospitals. But the very first attempt to break-down the money, produced insurmountable hurdles. Doctors’ trade unions argued that doctors alone should get the money because they had put their jobs on the line in a massive protest action –and that nurses should wait until there was more money for them in state coffers.

They claim that sharing out the money would water down salary-hikes to such an extent they would no longer be acceptable. Health Minister Leoš Heger slammed doctors for what he called their downright selfishness.

“The proposal presented to us amounts to an ultimatum and it shamelessly defends the interests of one profession group.”

The proposal put forward by the trade unions includes guarantees that the 2 billion crowns will be used for doctors salaries only –raising them by 8 to 12 thousand crowns a month –and that all doctors who want to withdraw their resignations should be allowed to do so. The head of the Czech Doctors Chamber Milan Kubek says nothing less is acceptable:

Milan Kubek (right), photo: CTK
“Only this agreement - as a whole - gives us guarantees that the money saved will be used for the right purpose.”

These new developments have brought the crisis to a head and worsened relations between doctors and nurses in dozens of state hospitals. Czech nurses, who are chronically underpaid, also want a piece of the cake, but if there is no deal the mass exodus of doctors could result in the closure of some hospitals and leave them out of a job. For their part, having taken things this far, doctors are going for broke in a battle of wills that threatens to end in the biggest health crisis the country has ever seen.