Czech doctors threaten exodus over low pay (Feature)
By Katerina Zachovalova Jan 12, 2011, 2:06 GMT
Prague - Peter Papp, an oncologist at a northern Czech hospital, hitchhikes in the summer when he wants to travel to Prague to hang out with his friends.
Papp, 31, is not a fan of the freewheeling mode of travel. He is saving money.
Despite 11 years of medical school training and hospital residency, he has never managed to break 'the magic threshold' of 20,000 koruna (1,051 dollars) a month, he said.
He makes 88 koruna per hour - or 2 koruna less than what he earned when he was labelling frozen chickens in his student days.
'My friends include a tinsmith, a cook. When we go out, they pay my bill. They say: 'You are only a doctor,'' he told the German Press Agency dpa.
Papp is among some 3,800 Czech public hospital doctors who have announced that they will quit their jobs on March 1 unless their demands for higher pay and improvements to the country's health-care system are met.
The protesting physicians represent a fifth of all public hospital doctors.
While some plan to leave the Czech Republic or the medical field altogether, government and hospital officials hope that most will revoke their resignations. If they don't, dozens of hospitals nationwide may find it difficult to provide care.
The protesting doctors, whose campaign, 'Thank You, We Are Leaving,' was organized by their trade union, are seeking substantial pay increases.
They are demanding a gross monthly salary of 70,000 koruna for regular doctors and 35,000 koruna for residents. Regular doctors are now reportedly making an average of about 50,000 koruna, including pay for night shifts and overtime.
The medical professionals say there would be enough money to cover their wage hikes if unnecessary spending on equipment, drugs and renovations were eliminated.
But the government has remained steadfast. Health Minister Leos Heger said that the state has no money for their demands as it has to cut spending to reduce the budget deficit.
'We could hardly find the resources to allocate for a massive wage hike,' Heger said.
He asked doctors to stay and promised them a pay increase after the introduction of reforms next year.
If doctors do not listen to his plea, patients may be in trouble once resignation notices take effect on March 1. Some wards may have to close, and waiting times for surgeries may drag out.
Some disgruntled doctors have been hunting for new jobs abroad.
A medical job fair in Prague in October at which 31 German hospitals and one Austrian clinic advertised jobs drew more than 5,000 Czech doctors and nurses, the organizers said. They already plan another fair for May.
'Our doctors are well-educated. It's a shame for our health care, a huge loss,' said Iva Beranova, 34, who worked for five years as an anaesthesiologist in the German town of Zittau.
She returned to her homeland for family reasons in 2008, but recently opened a private office as a general practitioner rather than returning full-time to anaesthesiology at a Czech hospital.
'Perhaps when my child grows up, I will return to it,' she told dpa. 'But in Germany, not here.'
Papp, who works in Usti nad Labem, wants to either find work at a British or Irish hospital or leave medicine altogether.
'Even what we are demanding is not enough,' he said.
Government and hospital officials now hope that most protesters will fail to find new employment, which will force them to take their notices back. Papp has no such plans.
'I don't have a family. I don't own real estate. I can't be blackmailed into staying,' he said.
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