NEWS

Hospitals face supplies threat

State hospitals, struggling to operate as doctors stayed home in protest at a government about-turn on a collective labor agreement, faced a new problem yesterday as medical suppliers declared that they would suspend deliveries until the settlement of huge debts owed to them by state hospitals. Doctors yesterday pressed on with the second day of a two-day strike despite pledges by Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos in Parliament that the sector's problems would be resolved speedily. Doctors say they are «deeply bitter» at the amendment of an agreement they had signed regarding improvements to their pay and working hours. They say that the draft law proposes a smaller increase in basic salary than agreed and fails to confirm pledges for the recruitment of 2,500 new doctors by 2010. Suppliers yesterday expressed similar exasperation, condemning «the absence of any action plan to tackle outstanding debt» which is believed to exceed 6 billion euros, though there is no consensus regarding the total. Suppliers have threatened to leave hospitals without crucial materials unless the government kick-starts the process of paying off debts. The suppliers complain that authorities had pledged to immediately pay 30 percent of the debt, some 2 billion euros, but then halved this figure, as emerged at a recent meeting between government officials and sector representatives. One of the two main unions of medical suppliers said it would suspend deliveries until Friday while the other declared open-ended sanctions. Meanwhile a group of 36 medical equipment suppliers are reportedly preparing legal action against 10 of the country's largest hospitals. These include the capital's Evangelismos, Geniko Kratiko, Attikon, Erythros Stavros and Ippocrateio as well as university hospitals in Iraklion, Crete, in Ioannina and in Larissa.

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