Health system fails checkup

The results of almost 500 checks carried out on the National Health System (ESY) by state inspectors last year uncovered widespread corruption and mismanagement at state hospitals, according to data seen by Kathimerini. The inspectors produced 451 reports following their checks, resulting in 53 cases being referred to prosecutors for possible criminal investigations. In 14 instances, the officials discovered that finances were being mismanaged or used improperly. They also looked into 145 cases involving medicine that was being used by hospitals without approval and drugs that were still on hospital shelves past their expiry dates. Other matters that were being investigated included the bypassing of waiting lists for operations and the suitability of food given to patients at state hospitals. Writing in Sunday’s Kathimerini, Yiannis Tountas, a social medicine professor at the University of Athens, highlighted the lack of funding and a central administration as two of the key problems dogging the health system. «Even if there were more funds, it is doubtful whether they would have any impact as ESY is controlled centrally from the office of the health minister at any given time while the hospitals are managed by short-term boards, which are usually politically appointed,» according to Tountas. Stathis Tsoukalos, the head of the Athens-Piraeus Doctors’ Union said that the health system is demanding too much from its doctors. «Our wages cannot even support a decent standard of living… the average hospital doctor works between 70 and 80 hours a week, in conditions that only make things worse,» said Tsoukalos, who suggested that this leaves doctors susceptible to under-the-table payments from patients looking for preferential treatment. Stavros Koutsiobelis, the president of the State Hospital Workers’ Union, blamed the disappointing situation on the lack of investment in the health system. «This chronic problem is getting worse despite the government’s promises that it would increase spending by 1 percent of GDP. After four years, it has cut spending by 0.5 percent of GDP,» said Koutsiobelis.