Six of Slovakia's largest hospitals struggling with protesting staff
As Hungary gets a new government Slovakia is gearing up for elections in two months time and a strike by health workers is causing plenty of controversy during the pre-election period. The medical personnel at six large Slovak hospitals are in their fourth week of strike action. They are asking for a 25 percent pay raise and an end to privatization of their institutions. From Bratislava, Anca Dragu reports.
Kvetoslava Klauteniova is a doctor with the Faculty Hospital in Bratislava where the strike began:
"I cannot agree with the way the health care sector reform is being implemented. I agree that it was necessary to launch a reform, but look how our health care looks like. I just cannot support it and nobody can deny us the right to strike."
A doctor receives a salary of about 600-700 euro a month, depending on their specialization and years of practice. This means that a junior doctor starts with slightly more than 350 euro per month, which is almost 40 percent lower than the average salary in Slovakia. Doctors received a 10 percent pay raise at the end of last year and during the current strike the management offered them another 8 percent. As for nurses, they have two options - be satisfied with 300-400 euro per month in Slovakia or to go to work in Austria, UK, the Czech Republic or the Scandinavian countries where they receive three to four times more money than they receive here.
Slovak patients, however, do not seem very interested in the financial problems of doctors or nurses. Most of the patients are nostalgic for the times when healthcare was free for everyone. They don't want to hear that hospitals are oversized and people simply eat pills, judging from the very high figure of drug consumption in Slovakia.
"Health care services are really poor, doctors are not professional either. I think this strike should be turned the other way round and it should not be the employees, but the patients who should go on strike."
"Of course they complained about their problems but I explained to them that we must keep on reforming the system because it is the only way for the hospitals to recover financially. I also talked to them about drawing money from the European Union in order to upgrade the medical equipment and train the medical personnel, concluded Dzurinda."
Unimpressed by his words 40,000 doctors and nurses from smaller hospitals across Slovakia announced they might join the strike if the management doesn't increase its current offer of an 8 percent pay raise.