25th Oct 2016

Spending cuts undermine healthcare in eastern EU countries

Austerity measures in former Communist EU countries have taken a heavy toll on underpaid and overworked doctors, with a state of emergency still ongoing in Slovakia after a mass walk-out.

The Slovak government is to meet on Wednesday (7 December) to discuss whether to lift the state of emergency after a deal was struck with the striking doctors. Some 1,600 medical staff resigned last week, prompting the crisis.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Slovakia had to borrow Czech army doctors to face the crisis (Photo: wikipedia)

Three quarters of them agreed on Saturday to come back to work after the government promised a salary increase of 40 percent. But most of them had not done so by Tuesday pending an analysis of the new deal.

Neighbouring Czech Republic sent some 30 army doctors to help out, while hospitals in Poland and Austria were preparing to take Slovak patients.

The mass resignations come after years of brain-drain to wealthier countries. Lucia Hippova, a 27-year old doctor told AFP she was earning €430 a month in a small Slovak hospital and left for Germany where she started on €1,890. "After three years, my salary reached €3,200," she said.

A euro member since 2009, Slovakia is trying to cut its way from a 4.9 percent of GDP deficit to the eurozone limit of 3 percent by 2013.

Similar cuts in non-euro members Hungary and Romania could also provoke a Slovak-type medical crisis.

Istvan Eger, head of the Hungarian Medical Chamber, said a similar situation could soon arise in his country and asked doctors to refrain from going to work in Slovakia out of solidarity for striking peers.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian Trainee Doctors Federation is collecting letters of resignation from members to submit to the government on 31 December if the situation does not improve.

The Romanian Medical Council has also warned that it may follow the Slovak example after the government ignored theirdemands on the 2012 budget.

"Doctors have are exhausted beyond limits and cannot take it any more," the council said in a statement. It warned that the new fee envisaged by the government for next year, obliging patients to pay for part of their medical services, will hit the most vulnerable people: pensioners and chronic patients. The measure is being introduced in line with demands by the EU and the International Monetary Fund, which lent Romania €20 billion in 2009.

In neighbouring Bulgaria, the health care budget is already unable to cover the needs of its patients.

"Bulgaria's budget for 2012 allocates, yet again, just 4 percent of GDP for the health care sector, which falls a long way short of the money needed to guarantee security for the Bulgarian patients, high-quality services, prevention and access to modern treatment," Heath Protection, a patients' organisation, said.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  2. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  3. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  4. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  5. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  6. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  7. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  8. Dialogue PlatformIs Jihadism Blind Spot of Western Intellectuals ? Wednesday 26 October
  9. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  10. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  11. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersFish Skin on Bare Skin: Turning Fish Waste into Sustainable Fashion