New Democracy prescription for ailing system

The New Democracy party yesterday presented its health policy, which it said was based on preventive procedures and on giving people the freedom to choose their doctors, equal opportunities to treatment for all and changes in the State’s employment of doctors. «The principle and priority of our program is to protect health. We are investing in prevention,» party leader Costas Karamanlis said at the policy’s presentation at an Athens hotel yesterday. The country’s ailing health system is one of citizens’ greatest concerns and is sure to play a major role in campaigning for the March 7 elections. One of the basics of ND’s policies is the introduction of a «family doctor» whom people (irrespective of which social security fund they are insured with) will be able to call on for a specific number of visits, choosing from a list of private doctors and dentists who will have joined the system. «We are giving patients the opportunity to choose their doctor freely,» Karamanlis said. The program includes the establishment of Urban Health Centers (such as the provincial ones that already exist) to offer first-aid services day and night. «The time when a citizen needs to cross the threshold of a public hospital, when he will need a doctor urgently, is the critical point at which one may judge whether the State respects its citizens, whether the State is truly just,» Karamanlis said. ND’s program says it will allow doctors employed by the National Health System (ESY) to have private practices but not to work for private clinics. It will scrap the system whereby ESY doctors can see patients after hours on hospital premises. Doctors will also be given incentives to work in remote parts of the country. More nursing personnel will be hired. Large wards will be divided so as to hold up to four patients. The policy also foresees a central purchasing system, the scrapping of the Regional Health Systems, the building of a children’s hospital in Thessaloniki, the establishment of at least two trauma centers in towns along the national highway and the setting up of more beds in intensive care units. New Democracy also promised cleaner, more functional and more aesthetically pleasing hospitals. New Democracy says that hospitals owe more than 1.2 billion euros to suppliers and that 30 percent of their operational expenses are wasted. The party also wants state hospitals to charge realistic prices for their services, rather than the nominal prices charged today. The policy also foresees greater emphasis on treating drug addicts, with an agency that will be part of the prime minister’s office. Health Minister Costas Stefanis commented: «We will study the program more carefully and responsibly, we accept a constructive dialogue.» But he noted also that «the greatest part is the customary generalization and promises regarding high-quality services to all, and all other principles included in the proclamations of governments and international organizations.» The Communist Party declared that «New Democracy, like PASOK, is contributing to the profits of capital, as they do not secure exclusive public health for workers.»

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