Government to help clear regional hospitals of old debts

Vladimir Spidla, David Rath, Marie Souckova, photo: CTK

Regional hospitals which have been labouring under huge debts are to get a relief-aid package from the government. The Cabinet on Tuesday earmarked 2 billion crowns which is to help clear debts accumulated up until the end of 2002. The move will give some hospitals teetering on the edge of bankruptcy a new lease of life.

When state controlled hospitals passed into regional ownership at the beginning of this year - the regions also inherited their long accumulated debts. They demanded that the state help clear these debts, claiming that it was way beyond their means to do so and warning that health care in the regions would deteriorate fast unless they could start with a clean slate. The government dallied -and regional governors joined forces to put pressure on the Cabinet. There were growing calls for the health minister's dismissal. The two billion crown aid package comes not a moment too soon - to give both the health minister Marie Souckova and some regional hospitals a new lease of life. However once the gratification subsides, regional governors will have to make some tough decisions - two billion crowns may seem like a lot of money but the overall debts allegedly amount to much more -between 3 and 6 billion, according to different sources.

Vladimir Spidla, David Rath, Marie Souckova, photo: CTK
At this point though the aid package has produced the desired result - it has quieted emotions and brought the rebelling Doctors' Association back to the negotiating table with fresh goodwill to resolve problems. "The reasons which led us to call for the health minister's dismissal are gone" said the head of the association David Rath as he posed for the cameras alongside Minister Souckova and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. The Doctors Association has promised to participate in drafting a stabilization plan for the health sector. The crisis appears to be over but the opposition predicts this will be no more than a brief respite. Moreover it is not yet clear where exactly the additional two billion will come from. The finance minister will either have to raise this year's state budget deficit or incorporate the sum into the draft of the 2004 budget. In both cases the plan would have to gain the consent of the Lower House - which is why minister Sobotka was unable to say when the regions would get the promised finances.