As the Health Ministry and the union representing the National First Aid Center (EKAB) blamed each other for the death of a 53-year-old man in a Thessaloniki ambulance yesterday, hospitals struggled to operate normally as thousands of doctors continued with a strike over pay. Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos threatened to sue medical staff for «criminal neglect,» noting that the ambulance in which the man died should have been properly stocked as EKAB had emergency supplies. But EKAB union president Ierotheos Giamouridis said the national committee which approves supplies for all state hospitals is being hampered by red tape. Meanwhile a coroner concluded that the 53-year-old had suffered a stomach hemorrhage, caused by a burst ulcer, and would have died regardless of whether the ambulance had been stocked with adhesive electrodes or not. The man’s death provoked an unusually sharp response as it came one day after medical suppliers pulled the plug on state hospitals, demanding the settlement of huge debts. The suppliers’ action has compounded problems in state hospitals which have been operating on skeleton staff since Monday when doctors launched their first of two 48-hour strikes this week. Yesterday hospital doctors’ unions expressed their satisfaction with the level of participation in the strike. The capital’s Erythros Stavros hospital and the Geniko Kratiko in Nikaia were among the hardest hit by the strike. «It’s been years since we’ve seen this level of participation in a strike,» said Nayia Vartzeli, a member of a union representing doctors in Athens and Piraeus. Doctors said they would press on with their action despite assurances from Avramopoulos that their labor contract would be renegotiated in a year’s time. The medics have said they are «bitter» at the minister for amending an agreement they had reached regarding improvements to their pay and working hours.