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Not Enough Doctors for Greece’s Personal Doctor Plan Yet

September 18, 2022

ATHENS – Greeks are running headlong into another bureaucratic nightmare in Greece – they are required to have a personal doctor now but not enough doctors have signed up to the new program.

More than 3.1 million Greek citizens 16 and over have registered to get a personal doctor since the new primary healthcare system began at the beginning of August, Health Ministry officials said, reported Kathimerini.

But only 25 percent of eligible private doctors have signed on beside those in the National Health System (ESY) where many have been quitting to become personal doctors, unhappy with low pay and tough conditions.

As there is a limit to how many patients a personal doctor can see there aren’t enough so far but there was no word on what would happen to people left out or if they couldn’t get services without one.

The number of doctors who have joined the platform is enough to cover only 55 percent in Athens and the surrounding area and 75 percent across the country but far from enough, the report said.

A top Health Ministry official not named also told the paper that there are needed “interventions to improve dysfunctions that appear” in the system but didn’t specify what they were.

The system, which will go into effect at the start of 2023, provides for a single personal physician to monitor a patient and keep the medical history – as in the United States – that can be reviewed by specialists treating them.

But only general practitioners and pathologists have been included in the system and the Health Ministry wants to add cardiologists, lung specialists, rheumatologists and other specialists that deal with long-term patients, said Alternate Health Minister Dr. Mina Gaga.

The ministry’s Secretary for Primary Health Care Marios Themistocleous said that, “We are changing primary health care in our country,” to centralize medical histories and patient care.

“We created the (personal doctor) for a holistic approach to citizens’ health. Beyond the traditional diagnosis and treatment, we focus on prevention and health education. The personal doctor will advise on the importance of prevention and adoption of a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

But it wasn’t said if people can pick who they want or if one would be assigned, leaving them little or no choice, including how close to where they live their new physician would be.

Trying to keep doctors in ESY, the New Democracy government will raise their salaries 10 percent on a mid-term basis, the basic increase being 5 percent and a public hospital employment allowance 120 euros ($120.19) a month and a 30 percent increase in a responsibility benefit, the report said.

Together that will raise the public doctors annual salaries up to 4,000 euros ($4006.46) that even at a higher limit is far less than many could get in private practice, some physicians asking to be paid only in cash.

The government is also said to be looking to let public doctors have a broader private practice, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis admitting they aren’t paid enough and the economy is booming as COVID wanes.

“We are training them to then go abroad to provide their services to other national health systems. And this is something we need to fix,” he said.

There are currently about 20,000 doctors working in ESY, of whom 2,500 are auxiliary doctors with contracts extended until Dec. 31, 2022. There are 5,500 vacant posts, according to hospital doctors’ representatives, who also noted however that the actual needs are greater.

The President of the Panhellenic Medical Association, Thanasis Exadaktylos, told the paper more than 18,000 Greek doctors are working abroad, most in European Union countries and the United Kingdom, for far higher pay and better working conditions.

“With the exception of Bulgaria, salaries in the rest of Europe are much more than Greek salaries. For example, in Romania the salary is 2.5 times higher, in Malta three times higher and in Germany about four times higher,” Exadaktylos said of the dilemma.

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