Health minister steps in to union-Okypy fray

Public hospitals are the “backbone” of the national health care system (Gesy) but they must become competitive, the health minister said on Friday.

Speaking on CyBC’s morning radio, Health Minister Popi Kanari said that she would be holding meetings with both the state health organisation (Okypy) and the six healthcare workers’ unions to determine each party’s “red lines” and proceed from there.

The minister was discussing next steps to break the impasse between the unions and Okypy after disagreements escalated and resulted in a general strike on Wednesday.

“A way must be found to bridge the chasm,” the minister said, however, she added that the position of the state, like that of Okypy, was that the legal framework for the system’s operation, approved in 2017, had to be adhered to.

The minister had come under fire for not intervening sooner in what has become a rapidly escalating disagreement, with unions charging the Okypy model has failed and asking whether the public health services should revert to being state-run under the authority of the health ministry.

Following the eight-hour strike, Labour Minister Yiannis Panayiotou stated he was ready for mediation proceedings, while President Nikos Christodoulides on Thursday was also poised to step in.

Kanari for her part, suggested to the state broadcaster that there are ways through the impasse.

“I will be holding meetings with both parties to determine their red lines and see where compromise can be reached,” she said.

“Public hospitals are the backbone of the healthcare system we have many excellent doctors providing a broad range of excellent services,” the minister added.

State sponsorship of Gesy has been extended for an additional year although in original planning by the previous government, the service was supposed to be autonomous by 2024.

Asked how an organisation set up to spend 75 per cent of its financial revenue on payroll, could become competitive in the space pf a year, Kanari noted that Gesy had inherited many of its attributes, including the expansive payroll, from its previous structure as a state institution.

“All these received issues will be gradually phased out,” the minister said.

She also noted that during the Covid pandemic, Gesy lost much of its expected revenue, as hospitals closed, surgeries were cancelled or postponed, and highly-qualified doctors left the public sector, taking their patients with them.

“Okypy has been doing everything it can to reduce costs and increase income,” Kanari said.

The meeting of the health minister with the unions is scheduled for next Tuesday, while consultations with Okypy are ongoing.

The crux of the disagreement concerns around 1,200 out of a total of around 7,500 health service employees, and centres on the fact that Okypy, in its trajectory to become self-sustaining, placed new hires on personal contracts with a different pay rise agreement than that of older employees, classed as public servants.

The unions claim that this sets up two-tier renumeration for equal work and will result in a transient workforce, which will in turn affect staffing levels and quality.

The audit service said on Thursday that suggestions that Okypy was reducing its operational costs were wrong.

“The number of patients is constantly being reduced and operational costs are increasing. Dozens of doctors have annual earnings exceeding €150,000,” it stated.

Meanwhile, the service is preparing two reports on the public health sector, one on Okypy, set to be published in January, and another on the Nicosia general hospital due at the end of November.

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Courtesy of Cyprus Mail | News