University doctors

University doctors have proved to be extremely obstinate in their clash with the Health Ministry. They may not have hoisted red flags or taken to the streets to protest but, in essence, they make the most uncompromising unionists look like amateurs. As is usually the case in issues like these, this is a struggle over money. There are large interests at stake. The legislation forbidding doctors from, on the one hand, offering their services to private clinics and on the other, from running private surgeries, is depriving them of huge incomes. As is widely known, since the beginning of the new year, hospitals have hosted private surgeries that are open in the evening hours and where patients can be examined by a doctor of their choice in exchange for a considerable fee. This institution, no doubt, generates high additional revenues for doctors. University doctors, however, have reacted as they see their former status, which allowed them to have higher (often higher than their Western European colleagues) and usually tax-free incomes, as an established right. Under the previous system, a university doctor had to be consistent and efficient as an academic professor, as a researcher, as a doctor attending university clinics and as a professional all at once. In other words, they had to be superhuman. But since there are no such things as superhumans, their performance in the public sector usually fell short of requirements. It is no coincidence that no other EU country provides the scandalous privileges that Greek university doctors have enjoyed until recently. The situation has gone beyond acceptable bounds. Medical schools – primarily those of Athens and Thessaloniki – have essentially ceased functioning for months now. As a result, courses have stopped while graduate students are unable to receive their degrees. The situation is worse in university clinics. Many doctors in these clinics have announced they will give up their clinical obligations and concentrate on teaching. In reality, however, the clinical and teaching obligations are too interconnected to separate. The more advanced students are taught by watching their professors performing their hospital duties. Until now, university doctors have been able to hide behind the apathy of the Education Ministry. Reform of the health system, however, is part of the government policy and not the exclusive concern of the responsible ministry. But since things have come to a head, it’s not enough for Education Minister Petros Efthymiou to say that he agrees with Health Minister Alekos Papadopoulos. Concerted intervention is needed. «It is a unique effort; we haven’t funded anything like this before,» Thore Hansen of the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) told AFP.

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