Since Health Minister Alekos Papadopoulos announced his plans for the operation of private surgeries in state-run hospitals in afternoon hours, Kathimerini has insisted that the measure was in the right direction and had to be implemented in spite of any reactions. Papadopoulos’s decisions announced yesterday reinforced positive expectations. But two things need to be pointed out: First, the system will succeed only if doctors decide to embrace it; and, secondly, the new measure is no panacea but only a first step which alleviates but does not solve the problem of deficiencies in primary healthcare. With yesterday’s decisions, Papadopoulos modified his previous announcements on the fees for afternoon surgeries, restoring a greater homogeneity to each category of doctor while still maintaining the income level close to the free market one. At the same time, he introduced administrative limitations on the number of patients and the priority and examination of patients who had first visited the out-patients’ departments in order to ensure that hospitals’ morning surgeries will not become a place to trawl for clientele for the afternoon ones. The rationale behind these decisions is no doubt the right one. Fees should not be low as their aim is to act as an incentive for doctors who have private practices to keep them in hospitals. The restrictions are justified as the afternoon surgeries are seen as supplementary to, rather than competing with, the principal occupation of hospital doctors. However, one should not foster the illusion that limitations can ensure transparency and the balance between the two aspects of the hospital. In order to achieve this aim, afternoon doctors should bear in mind that they are state employees above all, while their colleagues should realize that their earnings actually benefit the entire clinic. The Health Ministry should not confine itself to drawing up a legal framework but also embark on a campaign to inform doctors so as to ensure the greatest possible cooperation. We should not nourish excessive expectations. The operation of afternoon surgeries is expected to decongest out-patients’ departments. But we should not disregard the fact that this is achieved by a partial shift from state-run to private medical care. Morning surgeries will have less work merely because some people will prefer to pay rather than having to queue up. The primary aim, and we should not forget this, is to provide treatment to the entire body of insurees. And this highly difficult task must constantly be kept in mind by Papadopoulos if he wishes to complete his ambitious, albeit necessary reform.

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