Government determined to ride out the storm in the health sector

The revolt of hospital doctors is over. The fact that close to 4,000 of them have handed in their notice over low pay has left the government unfazed and in some cases the authorities say the resignations will work in their favour –by helping them undertake a much-needed overhaul of the network of health care providers.

The start of the New Year saw hospital directors sifting through piles of resignations. According to doctors trade unions’ which launched the “Thank you, we are leaving” campaign in support of higher salaries, 3, 837 doctors made good on their promise to walk out if the government failed to increase their salaries in 2011. The government is standing firm in its refusal and regional governors and hospital directors are now scrambling to sustain the backbone of the health care system. In some regions where as many as 60 percent of specialists have resigned they are making special offers to bring them back – for instance with a down payment of 100,000 crowns in return for a binding three-year contract. However hospital directors are now aware of the fact that they can pick and choose. Roman Kraus is the head of the teaching hospital in Brno:

David Rath, photo: CTK
“We will carefully consider which of those doctors we want to re-employ. Those who have left us will not be taken back automatically and they cannot automatically count on getting the same deal.”

Crisis planning meetings are taking place around the country in preparation of what many are calling a slimming cure. Smaller hospitals which will not be able to provide acute care will be transformed into rehabilitation centres and institutions for chronically ill patients. Some hospitals are closing down wards, leaving specialized care to the big hospitals. According to the governor of central Bohemia David Rath the crisis may have positive side effects.

“In the end the wave of resignations may actually lead to better financial management in some state hospitals.”

Leoš Heger
Despite the business-as-usual attitude, some regions have voiced concern. The governor of the Pardubice region Radko Martinek says the situation is “grave” due to the number of top-level specialists who have walked out. Without replacements, which are hard to find, care will be restricted. Patients will have to wait longer for planned surgery or seek treatment elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Leoš Heger is clearly determined to ride out the storm. Having refused to raise doctor’s wages he has no plans to meet with trade unions and has already revealed that in the event of serious problems he is prepared to call a state of emergency – forcing doctors to return to work under the threat of a 50,000 crown fine. How high a price patients will have to pay for the upheaval in the health sector remains to be seen.