The Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity is racing to have the country’s hospitals ready in time for the Olympic Games. On April 5, Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis told the press that work on the Athens hospitals dubbed «Olympic Hospitals» was not yet complete, despite the fact that it was due by the end of 2003. The sole exception was the Sismanogleio Hospital at Vrilissia, which, Kaklamanis dryly remarked, «we would like to clone.» The hospital is the only one of five that already has a mobile unit to deal with chemical and biological attacks. Indicative of the efforts that were being made was Kaklamanis’s remark that «Deputy Health Minister Thanassis Yiannopoulos was in danger of turning into a works contractor.» At least six of Athens’s largest hospitals – Evangelismos, KAT, Geniko Kratiko, Asklipieio at Voula, Tzaneio and the Red Cross – were frantically upgrading their facilities for the Games, at least with respect to emergency care, single-bed rooms and new equipment. As for the National First Aid Center (EKAB), the first ambulances (about 40) had been delivered, Kaklamanis said, and he projected that EKAB’s coordinating center would, in the end, be ready for the Games. Nevertheless, the equipment supply contract for the center will be directly assigned, as a competition had not been announced in time. The minister also dwelt on hospital debt, which had reached 1.8 billion euros by the end of 2003. A large part of the unpaid debt was due to social security funds’ failure to pay their dues, with the worst offender being the Farmers’ Pension Fund (OGA). A special amendment to settle the debt issue will be attached to a draft bill on hospital supplies, which will be tabled in Parliament this summer. «Three years’ worth of hospital orders for expensive equipment have been languishing at the Commerce Ministry (part of the Development Ministry),» the minister pointed out. The ministry has also embarked on a drive to register the real estate of charitable and hospital organizations in view of the absurd price that was paid for one of its landholdings in Kifissia. The plot of land, which was sold for a sum of 382,000 euros instead of the 560,000 euros it was actually worth, had been put up for auction in order to produce the miserly sum of 8,361 euros that was owed to workers of the (now-disbanded) PIKPA institution for handicapped children. A financial and administrative inspection of Regional Health Systems (PeSYP) was also under way. For its duration, the heads of the regional health systems had been ordered to remain at their posts (13 out of the total 17 had resigned). Referring to the evaluation of hospital heads by PeSYP, which was supposed to have been completed by last August, Kaklamanis claimed that only that of Thessaly had submitted a file, and even that one had never been opened. He also said a draft bill would be tabled next month on the National Health System (ESY) administration that would reinstate PeSYPs as entities under public law. After the summer, another bill will be in the pipeline that would do away with the list of prescribed medicines. Further draft legislation will deal with primary healthcare, with the aim of starting a pilot scheme (probably in Larissa) in 2005 entailing the free choice of doctor. The minister also approved 100 new positions for general practitioners for the year to come. By summer, the ministry hopes to come up with a scheme that does away with the relegation of patients into corridors, in tandem with an improvement in EKAB functioning and the creation of an operations center within the ministry.