Hospitals near meltdown

Doctors warned yesterday that hospital patients will begin to die soon unless the government can resolve an impasse with suppliers over more than 5 billion euros in debts. The hospital suppliers have been providing just basic items for the past few days, in protest at the government’s failure to come up with ways to pay the 5.2 billion euros that the state owes them. Health Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou and other ministry officials met with representatives of various pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies yesterday but the two sides were not able to reach an agreement on how this debt, which in some cases stretches back several years, will be settled, nor on how they will be paid in the future. Nevertheless, Xenogiannakopoulou appeared to adopt an aggressive stance with the suppliers, indicating that they had been overcharging for many of their products. «The party in the health sector is over,» she said. «We are determined to work out a payment plan,» the minister added. «We call on the suppliers to assume their responsibilities but we are also doing what we can to ensure that hospitals continue to function normally.» Nevertheless, the longer the dispute drags on, the more state hospitals will suffer, as many are already desperately short of supplies and unable to carry out basic services such as CAT scans and blood tests. Hospitals including Evangelismos and Tzaneio have been borrowing consumables to keep going. «The coming week will be exceptionally crucial for the health system,» said Dimitris Varnavas, president of the Federation of Greek Hospital Doctors’ Unions (OENGE). «Hospitals cannot offer basic services because of a lack of things like surgical gloves and surgical thread. It is certain that lives will be lost in the coming days.» Meanwhile, the failure to pay doctors overtime means that fewer hospitals are filling their on-duty slots. The Attiko Hospital in Athens is due to be on duty today but will only be accepting emergency cases. Doctors at the Geniko Kratiko in Nikaia have not been working extra shifts for the last month.