If everything goes according to two ministerial decrees released Thursday by Health Minister Alekos Papadopoulos, after the New Year hospital outpatients will no longer have to wait months for treatment or be passed from one doctor to another, but will be able to visit the doctor of their choice, when they choose. As of January 1, state hospitals will be allowed to make their premises available to senior medical staff for private consultations, provided that they are on duty in the same hospital at least one morning per week and shut down their own private practices. Doctors will thus be able to boost their salaries legally and hospitals will be open all day to patients. «We are not privatizing the health system,» said Papadopoulos, adding that those who claimed to the contrary were those who did not want public funds to keep flowing «underground» to the private sector. He also claimed that the quality of morning services would improve, as senior staff would not be abandoning state hospitals for the private sector, once they were given the opportunity to make extra money on the premises. Papadopoulos reminded critics of the new system that private afternoon consultations were not the main point of the reform program. The minister said problems could be expected in the early stages, as with every new system, and it was up to the administration of each hospital to decide when to go ahead with the new move. However, he expected that most hospitals would be able to begin offering afternoon services immediately. However, the needs of the hospital’s regular morning routine are to come first, he added, and afternoon services are optional, as is the participation of medical, nursing and administrative staff. Staff who do decide to work the afternoon shift, however, will have to abide by the rules as laid down by law, at the risk of severe sanctions or even dismissal. Directors, deputy directors of clinics, university medical school professors and lecturers (A category), as well as all specialists in hospitals of less than 200 beds are entitled to work the afternoon service, as long as they have closed their private practices by January 1 and work one morning shift per week. They may not see more patients in the afternoons than they do in the morning hours, and patients examined in a morning clinic may not consult with the same doctor during afternoon hours for at least a month. Fees for afternoon consultations range from 25 euros (8,518 drachmas) to 90 euros (30,667 drachmas), according to the doctor’s grade in the hierarchy, and are to be paid by the patient. Return visits to the same doctor for an examination of test results ordered by the same doctor during an afternoon consultation are to be free of charge. Fees for diagnostic tests and treatment carried out in afternoon hours are paid to the hospital either by the patients themselves or their health insurance. Outpatients, as well as inpatients, may undergo minor surgical procedures in afternoon hours.