Many state hospitals are operating at below the emergency-staff level due to a chronic absence of personnel, the leader of the country’s hospital workers’ union said yesterday. Even university hospitals are unable to maintain self-sufficient specialist units as there are too few employees to staff them, according to the president of the Panhellenic Federation of Public Hospital Workers, Stavros Koutsiobelis. He cited the example of Larissa’s University Hospital, whose cardiac and urology units have been merged due to a lack of staff to maintain them separately. Koutsiobelis said that one in four permanent posts at state hospitals are vacant and stresses that this situation is certain to worsen over the coming years with the next anticipated «wave» of retirements. Recruitment to permanent posts at state hospitals in Greece does not exceed 800 staff per year, while at least 1,200 are retiring on an annual basis – a rate expected to reach 2,500 over the next few years. In some hospitals, understaffing is obstructing the smooth running of crucial units. The Metaxa Hospital in Piraeus has had to postpone scheduled operations for cancer sufferers – who now have to wait up to two months to be seen. According to the hospital’s chief doctor Thanassis Karambelis, 142 of the 441 permanent hospital posts remain vacant. Meanwhile, another 40 nurses are on long-term leave. As a result of the shortages, doctors are often obliged to conduct blood tests – usually the role of nursing staff – which contributes to the backlog, he said. The immediate recruitment of extra staff to fill these crucial gaps in the state health system is the main demand of hospital staff who are staging a three-hour strike tomorrow from 11.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. Workers are also calling for their profession to be classified as hazardous and a health risk – a category that offers special benefits. The protesters are planning to stage a demonstration outside the Health Ministry. They have threatened to stage a two-month strike from the beginning of next month unless their demands are satisfied.