Deal struck with hospital suppliers

Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou and Health Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou emerged from a long meeting with state hospital suppliers yesterday, saying that they had reached a preliminary deal to settle state debts using a combination of government bonds and cash with the primary aim of averting a dangerous shortage of medical supplies. Papaconstantinou told reporters that the government has already paid off 1.2 billion euros – mainly bills from 2005, 2006 and part of 2007 – out of an overall state debt of more than 7 billion euros to state hospitals. He said the remaining outstanding debts for 2005 and 2006 – some 245 million euros – would be paid off in cash. The remaining debts for 2007, 2008 and 2009 would be settled using 5.3 billion euros in government bonds, the minister said. The proposed deal, which was accepted by the overwhelming majority of suppliers, is to be submitted in Parliament this week. Papaconstantinou said the aid «should immediately smooth out any problems currently being faced by state hospitals.» Earlier in the day, doctors had warned that the government’s failure to break an impasse with suppliers could put patients’ lives at risk. Suppliers demanding their dues had provided only basic provisions to hospitals over the past few days, in an attempt to force the government’s hand on its debts to hospitals. According to Dimitris Varnavas, the president of the Federation of Greek Hospital Doctors’ Unions, hospitals are experiencing shortages of everything from gauzes to pacemakers. The head of the union representing doctors in the capital, Stathis Tsoukalos, said the crisis was the climax of a long-burgeoning predicament. «The problem of hospital supplies has gone on for years but the situation needs to be resolved immediately,» Tsoukalos said. A meeting between Xenogiannakopoulou and suppliers on Monday had ended in deadlock with the minister accusing the providers of blackmail for freezing deliveries of crucial hospital consumables. In a related development yesterday, Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos told a press conference that the country’s military hospitals would be able to contribute to the treatment of citizens if state hospitals experience any problems.