Remedial action

The dismal state of Greece’s public health sector is a chronic, multifaceted problem. Besides the complex institutional issues concerning the organization of the National Health System (ESY), state clinics are also suffering from a serious lack of coordination and cooperation. As a result, some hospitals have had to place extra beds in their corridors in order to accommodate emergency patients while at the same time hundreds of beds are available in other clinics. A study carried out by the Ministry of Health a few months ago found that four or five of Greece’s main hospitals were placing between 100 and 120 beds in their corridors when about 700 beds were available in other clinics. Proposals to reform the system of emergency duty hospitals that were announced by the Health Ministry yesterday aim to rationalize the entire process and improve standards for patients. A first benefit stemming from the new proposals, which were presented yesterday to positive comments, is the doubling of the number of hospitals on duty in the morning hours. It is estimated that there will be 14 hospitals on duty, up from five today. Parallel to introducing the new system, the ministry expects to enable the transfer of patients to other clinics or sections of the same clinic that have available beds so that emergency cases can be treated with the best possible care. This would also get rid of beds from hospital corridors. To be sure, the rationalization of the emergency duty system is no panacea for all the problems plaguing the health sector. There is demand for more medical staff, a problem that should be tackled in a pending bill. There is also a need for the gradual introduction of a emergency care system outside hospitals. Such key measures – and a lot more besides – must not be neglected. At the same time, however, the government must closely study areas which are amenable to instant and relatively low-cost improvement (like the issue of emergency duty). It is an open secret, for example, that most hospitals end their morning shift at 1.30 p.m. and that a large section of the medical staff is absent, that consultation rooms and operation theaters are sorely deficient in terms of planning and working hours, and that existing staff and equipment are not utilized to the full. On issues where improvement depends on coordination and discipline, progress can be swift as long as the government and hospital administrations display persistence and determination. While strategic reforms and radical changes might take time and money, there is no excuse for allowing problems to fester when they are the direct consequence of apathy and poor communication.