ATHENS – Fed up with long hours at low pay and conditions in public hospitals so bad that some don’t have toilet paper – or seats – and critical care equipment, Greek doctors said they would go on 8-hour strikes on Nov. 29 and Nov. 30.
The Federation of Hospital Doctors of Greece (OENGE) called for the work stoppage alongside the Panhellenic Federation of Public Hospital Workers, with plans for a protest rally outside the Health Ministry.
Thousands of strikes in Greece after austerity measures began in 2010 in return for three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($357.72 billion) that lasted until 2018, but did nothing to stop big pay cuts, tax hikes, and worker firings.
The health budget was also slashed to satisfy European Union creditors and bankers who put up the rescue funds and wanted to ensure they would be repaid and public hospital conditions are abysmal in many cases.
That includes long waits in emergency rooms that have seen frustration from patients and families build to the boiling point and even escalated into violence against guards, doctors and hospital staff.
Besides wanting salary hikes and more hirings, the public hospital doctors said they want permanent hirings of those on limited contracts, tax exemptions for additional on-call shifts and a hike in the healthcare budget.
The Thessaloniki Association of Hospital Doctors (ENITH) is said to want a doubling of salaries and more staff hirings in hospitals in Greece’s second-largest city saying there is a 30 percent vacancy rate.
Without enough doctors, those on duty are often also shuttled around between hospitals and even across the country, leading many to quit in exasperation, the situation also worse on islands.
The strikes come a few weeks after Health Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis told the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) that 10,000 more would also be hired to bolster hospitals.
He said that the New Democracy government now in its second term had already moved to improve pay and conditions for doctors and that, “medical and nursing staff incomes were raised in multiple ways,” and more is coming.
“A vital issue for Greece is that young doctors remain in Greece, and therefore in the NHS. Providing incentives is a priority, not just in economic terms, that Asked by ANA-MPA how the hiring of medical staff would be carried out, Chrysochoidis said that procedures would be digital, without sacrificing meritocracy, without offering details.
“There will be a council in each health region and by specialty that will be assigned with all evaluation processes for candidates. At the same time, the deadlines for the submission and evaluation of document proof will be shortened” he said of the plan.
He said that hirings – which in Greece are often done through political favors – would be done objectively and include interviews although Greece is strapped for doctors who have options in other countries.
Speaking of the issue of surgeries at” public hospitals and efforts to coordinate lists and cross out completed operations, the health minister said that “the platform is expected to start operating by the end of the year.”
New initiatives, which are part of the new Primary Healthcare framework, were presented earlier by Deputy Health Minister Irini Agapidaki who said they would “strengthen the pool of pathologists and general practitioners in our country, to meet citizens’ personal doctor needs and to transform Greece into the country of choice for a career among young doctors.”
She said that only 6 percent of medical school graduates in Greece pick general medicine and pathology as their speciality compared to the European Union average of 26 percent.
“With the implementation of the plan in the first months of 2024, there will be no citizen who cannot find a staff doctor,” she added, echoing promises by a succession of governments that often weren’t met.