OPINION

Staff shortages in state hospitals

Staff data made public yesterday by Health Minister Apostolos Kaklamanis once again underscored shortages as the greatest ill besetting Greece’s National Health System (ESY). According to ministry figures, there are just 43,248 nurses for 22,472 doctors – that is, the doctor/nurse ratio is near 1:2 when that in other countries of the European Union is 1:3 or even higher. The problem is not just about statistical data. The lack of trained staff is one of the main reasons behind the disgraceful conditions facing patients and doctors in state clinics, with hordes of relatives being mobilized as substitute emergency medical staff. Although these people help cover vital needs, they disrupt the entire system. Health regulations are being violated whenever patients are surrounded by thousands of visitors who potentially carry all sorts of viruses. Moreover, relatives import their private ideas and habits on hygiene, quiet and visiting hours. The outcome is least flattering for state hospitals, which are far superior in terms of scientific expertise and infrastructure, with their state-of-the-art medical equipment. However, chronic staff shortages give the impression that patients have simply been abandoned to their fate in a despicable environment. It makes one wonder when the government has enough money to recruit scores of employees (or to set up something as pointless as a rural guard body) and at the same time stubbornly refuses to fulfill ESY staff needs. And yet it would be hard to find a better example of social policy than the hiring of extra medical staff. Such a move would give work to thousands of young people and at the same time improve medical treatment standards for millions of citizens. According to the data released yesterday by the Health Ministry, the average age of ESY doctors is 50 and for nurses 40. These figures indicate that the gates to the public health system are tightly closed for young doctors and nurses. That amounts to an unforgivable waste of human capital that has been trained at a very high cost. In itself, the publication of data does little to alleviate the problem. It also requires a brave political decision to embark on a new recruitment drive. After all, this is a rare sector where voters would agree to an extra strain on the state budget.