As COVID-19 Soared, New Democracy Didn't Conscript Private Specialists

Αssociated Press

A man wearing a face mask to curb the coronavirus looks at his mobile phone as he walks in front of a mural created by street artist INO in Psiri district of Athens, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – Even as the number of cases, deaths, and number of people on ventilators in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) rose out of control, Greece's New Democracy didn't commandeer – as promised – specialists from private facilities to help deal with the pandemic.

While many doctors volunteered to respond to the Health Ministry's call for help, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis didn't put the arm on specialists or use private hospitals which only those with money can afford to help cope.

That was the finding of the newspaper Kathimerini which said the results of an initiative to utilize private sector doctors as the crisis worsened was feeble and they weren't ordered to aid the public hospitals.

As of Nov. 24, only 21 private doctors had responded to the governments' call through a platform activated by the Medical Association of Athens, only six of them specialists, others not interested in helping.

Speaking to Kathimerini, the association’s President, Attica Governor Giorgos Patoulis from New Democracy, said they would try gain and said the regional authority might offer a subsidy to private doctors who would help.

Most of those who offered to help – some 21 Members of Parliament who are doctors only now have jumped in, eight months after the pandemic began – were in Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city and the hardest hit.

Another problem for the government was the lack of doctors with special expertise, the country having lost thousands who fled the country to find work elsewhere during a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis.

With public hospital ICUs and ventilators nearing total capacity, the government has moved some non-COVID-19 patients to private facilities but didn't take over their critical care units as vowed.

Only now is the National Health System (ESY) considering ordering private doctors and clinics to aid, their facilities generally reserved for the wealthy or with private insurance.

The Health Ministry didn't reach out, the paper said, until Nov. 10, three days after a second lockdown began and as the pandemic was spiraling out of control, raising fears public hospitals would be totally overrun. 

The government asked for general practitioners as well as anesthesiologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists and other specialists but got almost no response, with only eight of 170 in Thessaloniki having special training backgrounds, a source not named told the paper.

Some who agreed to help asked for part-time work not in their contracts, refused to go to COVID-19 clinics or changed their minds and said they wouldn't assist despite the critical need.

The President of the Panhellenic Medical Association, Athanasios Exadaktylos, blamed the government for delays in preparing contracts for doctors who wouldn't work without them and said that some ESY union officials didn't want them working in public hospitals.