The dispute between the Health Ministry and university doctors appeared to ease slightly yesterday, with neither side pushing the issue to extremes. But divisions remain, with both the ministry and the doctors sticking to their guns pending a Council of State hearing on January 31 on a case brought by university doctors who were fired from the National Health System (ESY). On Wednesday, Health Minister Alekos Papadopoulos warned that any university doctors who had chosen private practice instead of working in the national health system would face the brunt of the law if they tried to conduct surgery in state hospitals. University doctors, backed by the Athens University principal, answered that they may have left the state system but they still had to teach their students in state hospitals that housed university clinics. Yesterday, the minister instructed hospital managers and regional directors to employ discretion on the issue and not clash with the doctors. The doctors, in turn, conducted only two emergency operations at Athens’s Laiko Hospital and toured wards with students to examine patients. At a Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Costas Simitis expressed full support for Health Minister Papadopoulos, saying that it was customary for those losing privileges to react against changes involving the more rational use of funds and the public interest. The new health law, passed last year, forced university doctors to choose between private work or state employment, rather than staying in both.