WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A protest by thousands of doctors in Poland who refuse to work overtime disrupted services Wednesday at some hospitals, including children’s wards.
Some hospitals, including those for children in Bialystok and in Gizycko, have been forced to postpone non-life-saving procedures or close night emergency service.
The Health Ministry said Wednesday that some 3,500 of about 88,000 hospital doctors have refused to sign up to contracts allowing for work weeks of more than 48 hours. The protesters say the number was closer to 5,000. They are calling for talks with Health Minister Konstanty Radziwill to ask for a speedy, substantial increase of health care funds.
Poland’s state-funded health care is chronically strapped, understaffed and poorly organized. In some regions, the wait for free procedures can take many years. Low earnings are forcing doctors to work overtime, to take additional jobs at private clinics or to emigrate. Last year there were reports of doctors collapsing after days of non-stop work.
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The opposition is calling for Radziwill’s dismissal in a government reshuffle expected this month.
Radziwill was due to meet with a parliamentary commission later Wednesday to discuss the situation in health care.
Radziwill called the protest “mutiny” intended to disrupt the hospitals. He said the situation was “under control” as hospital managers can reorganize work schedules.
In Warsaw, patients reported no problems.
Last year, underpaid young doctors held weeks of hunger strikes to demand higher pay. The protest dissolved after Radziwill announced legislation to significantly raise spending on health care from the current 4 percent of the annual economic growth to more than 6 percent of the GDP in 2025. Wage increases took effect Monday.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said recently that improving the ossified health care system is a major challenge for his government.
Many critics blame the situation on funds-consuming National Health Fund, an administrative body that assigns state many to individual hospitals, but often enters into conflict with hospital managers over the costs of procedures, delaying refunds.
This version corrects the government’s proposed health care spending raise to 6 percent of the GDP in 2025, not 2015.