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How to save the public health service?

June 14th, 2011

The exodus of young (and old) Hungarian doctors is reaching intolerable proportions. Young doctors are threatening to leave their posts en masse. A pro-government commentator understands their bitterness, but fears that their demands for pay rises are unrealistic.

Successive governments have completely neglected the sordid problems of the Hungarian health services for decades–Magor Papp told the liberal weekly Magyar Narancs. Trainee doctors are paid 80 to 90 thousand forints per month, (300 euros), and even a head of department approaching retirement barely earns  more than 190 thousand forints (600 euros). If they move to western Europe, doctors can easily earn 10 times as much, and enjoy more favourable working conditions.

Many hospitals in Western Europe already employ Hungarian doctors. Western health institutions have become more aggressive as the shortage of doctors becomes more acute. They send head-hunters to Hungary, offering paid language courses. Some Hungarian doctors are even sent home to recruit new employees among their friends.

As a result, 1,100 doctors left Hungary last year, meaning that the number of active physicians dropped below 28 thousand. A total of 30 thousand are usually considered the minimum for the normal functioning of the public health service in Hungary. Even more worrying is the age composition of doctors.

Magor Papp suggests that the only medicine for this ‘disease’ would be an immediate and substantial pay increase. Trainee doctors should take home 200 thousand forints, and specialists 300 thousand. Physicians should receive guarantees that in the future they will be able to earn at least three times the average salary. Young doctors have begun handing in their resignations, effective from December, unless these demands are met.

Miklós Ugró, a commentator at the pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet admits that the doctors’ complaints are justified, but doesn’t believe that the government can find the money necessary to meet their demands.

“We understand why doctors are so bitter about their lot…. We understand everything, except why their patience has come to such an abrupt end exactly  now, as they have not received better treatment (than this) during the past sixty-five years”.