Several state hospitals were operating on skeleton staff yesterday as doctors launched a 48-hour walkout, protesting an alleged about-turn by the Health Ministry on a collective labor agreement. Doctors claim that the text of an agreement they signed with Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos on changes to their pay and working hours was altered before being included in a bill tabled in Parliament last week. They say that the draft law proposes a smaller increase in basic salary than agreed. The bill also fails to confirm another of the minister’s pledges: that 2,500 new doctors will be hired by 2010. One Athens hospital, the Erythros Stavros, was said to be struggling to handle patients yesterday as only a handful of doctors were on duty. The hospital’s x-ray department was left with just its director and a couple of specialists as the bulk of the unit’s staff failed to turn up. In Thessaloniki, the Aghios Pavlos hospital was one of the worst hit, particularly its orthopedic unit which had no staff at all. In the early afternoon, the hospital was so understaffed that it could not even accept emergency cases, sources said. The hospital’s managing board convened later yesterday and said a rotating team of doctors would cover the hospital’s emergency cases. Health Ministry officials yesterday pressed the administrative boards of all the country’s state hospitals to find a way of ensuring that each duty shift was covered. But all indications were that the situation would worsen today as more doctors join the action. A spokesman for the Hellenic Federation of Hospital Doctors (OENGE), Stathis Tsoukalos, told Kathimerini that the government had provoked the action through its demeaning treatment of doctors. «We feel deeply bitter and believe the government has offended us,» he said. Ministry officials had told doctors that changes to the bill were made because of the impact of the global economic crisis.