Doctors struggling to cope on islands

Medical units, especially in the Cyclades chain, are crippled by staff shortages year-round

Doctors struggling to cope on islands

The vast majority of public health units on the small Aegean islands are struggling to cope as the limited number of doctors are forced to be on call every day, without a day off and generally without the chance to rest in order to cope with the needs of the population.

These difficulties are highlighted by a survey conducted by the doctors of the Multipurpose Regional Clinic of Serifos, Athanasios Kontaris (family doctor, scientific manager of the clinic), Katerina Karavoulia and Meropi Galari (rural doctors) and the medical student Manos Zavalis who volunteers at the clinic. Kontaris told Kathimerini the situation is frightening. 

The research team contacted their colleagues by phone on 26 of the 28 islands whose only health structure is a multipurpose regional clinic.

Their responses revealed that 13 units have only one doctor who makes 30 on-call visits a month.

The remaining 13 units have two doctors who share the on-call duties (15 each). Ten units have no nurses. Only seven such centers have a qualified doctor, and the rest operate with rural doctors. 

Only at one practice do doctors get the days off they are entitled to under the current institutional framework. All participating doctors work more than 48-hour shifts, which is the maximum limit according to the law.

Asked whether they have made medical errors due to exhaustion, the doctors of 14 health units answered in the affirmative. 

“The survey was a product of frustration,” said Kontaris, who bemoaned the difficulties entailed in the provision of primary healthcare services to the residents of the Lesser Cyclades group of islands.

“For example, a patient with a heart attack on Serifos will contact a cardiologist 18 to 20 hours after the heart attack,” he said, while noting the increased population on the island in the summer. 

“It is one thing to have to look after 1,250 residents and another to have to look after 12,000 people – residents and visitors – in the summer,” he said. 

“It is very difficult for a doctor to make the decision to serve on an island. I find it difficult to find a place to stay. I have a young child and there is no daycare to leave him at when my wife and I have to be away at work. You can get trapped in the winter, life is more expensive, and there are medical challenges,” he said.

Incentives to doctors need to be looked at again, he said, stressing that a discussion must begin on tax breaks, salary increases, reducing bureaucracy, and providing accommodation for doctors.

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