East European doctors plan joint protest in November
PRAGUE (Reuters) - Doctors in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic will hold a symbolic work stoppage next month in protest against low pay and reforms they say are undermining health care by shifting too much power to insurers.
Physicians in the four countries said they would stop working at noon on November 20 for a period that would not affect patients or the functioning of hospitals.
Health care has become a hot-button issue across the European Union's emerging East, as governments struggle to cut costs to shrink their budget deficits while maintaining predominantly state-run cradle-to-grave medical systems.
The doctors said they were demanding authorities preserve health care as a public service, force insurance companies to pay realistic prices and ensure doctors are compensated at 1.5 to 3 times average national salaries.
The protest is a precursor to further moves that could include mass resignations of doctors across the region, they said.
"This is the final peaceful warning to the governments in the region," said Janos Beltecki, the head of Hungary's MOSZ doctor's union.
Health spending in the four ex-communist countries accounts for 7-9 percent of gross domestic product compared with more than 11 percent for Germany and France, and doctors complain of low pay and long hours.
Last year, thousands of Czech doctors threatened to go abroad to work unless the government raised salaries, while 2,500 Hungarian doctors threatened to quit. In Slovakia, a fifth of the country's 7,000 doctors stayed home for a day in December to protest against wage levels of about 1,500 euros a month.
Doctors also said governments were giving insurers more powers to determine how much treatments should cost or to refuse to pay at all, passing on costs to patients.
"Gradually, care will be more and more limited under the threat of insurers and for certain groups of the population, even basic health care will become unobtainable," said Milos Voleman, deputy chairman of the Czech LOK-SCL doctors' union.
Czech insurers announced on Monday they had received a mandate from the Health Ministry to decide on cuts of up to 6,000 of the country's 52,000 acute care hospital beds in a move to concentrate care at bigger and better-equipped hospitals.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Michael Winfrey; editing by Andrew Roche)
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