A realistic approach to hospital failings

Two recent pieces of news, issued virtually simultaneously, served to grab the attention of the media and public. First came a declaration by Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos regarding the «unacceptable, Third World conditions prevailing at many of our state hospitals;» second was the revelation that a certain large medical institution in provincial Greece was found to have been operating with more than half its doctors away from their posts. As regards the latter case, an investigation was ordered, the minister called for the resignation of the medical center’s director, and the absent doctors have been charged with defrauding the state as they were pocketing their salaries without doing their job. It is no surprise that such revelations should inspire public outrage. But it is best if we approach this problem calmly and level-headedly and also acknowledge that, despite the obvious imperfections and shortfalls of the state health service, it remains the best safety net for citizens’ protection. The overwhelming majority of medical and nursing staff at most state hospitals far exceed their traditional obligations when treating the average citizen. As for the case of the missing doctors, it is quite likely that some medical staff play truant from their duties every now and again, as long as they are ready to return in an emergency and only if the skeleton staff are in place. Unfortunately, the fact remains that the staff shortages in most state hospitals are such that doctors are urged to work excessive, and exhausting, rotas. Outrage may be a predictable reaction to such conditions, but a realistic and serious approach to solving such problem is potentially more useful.