Greek Island Doctors Say Too Much Work, Not Enough Help

SERIFOS – Greek islands, including those overrun with tourists in the summer, have a shortage of health care workers and and necessities, but it’s most acuste on small Aegean sites where doctors say they are on call around the clock.

That was found in a survey conducted by the doctors of the Multipurpose Regional Clinic of Serifos, Athanasios Kontaris (family doctor, scientific manager of the clinic), Katerina Karavoulia and Meropi Galari (rural doctors) and the medical student Manos Zavalis who volunteers at the clinic.

Kontaris told Kathimerini the situation is frightening after the team talked to colleagues by phone of 26 of 28 islands whose only health facility is a multi-purpose regional clinic without specialists or specialty equipment.

The researchers found that 13 units have only one doctor who makes 30 on-call visits a month and the remaining 13 two doctors who share the on-call duties while 10 have no nurses and only seven have qualified physicians.

Only at one practice do doctors get the days off they are entitled to under the law and all are working more than 48-hour shifts, the maximum allowed, with doctors in 14 clinics reporting they’ve made medical errors because of exhaustion.

“The survey was a product of frustration,” said Kontaris, who said the problems are most severe in primary healthcare services to the residents of the Lesser Cyclades group of islands.

“For example, a patient with a heart attack on Serifos will contact a cardiologist 18 to 20 hours after the heart attack,” he said as the population swells with tourists in the summer.

“It is one thing to have to look after 1,250 residents and another to have to look after 12,000 people – residents and visitors  – in the summer,” he said of how overwhelming the task is.

The state doesn’t provide accomodations for the doctors who are assigned to the islands and don’t have a choice where they go after finishing their free medical school education.

“It is very difficult for a doctor to make the decision to serve on an island. I find it difficult to find a place to stay. I have a young child and there is no daycare to leave him at when my wife and I have to be away at work. You can get trapped in the winter, life is more expensive, and there are medical challenges,” he said.

He said that incentives should be provided to doctors whose work is essential and can save lives, asking for tax breaks, salary increases, reducing bureaucracy, and providing accommodations over high rents.


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