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03 Feb 11

Romanian Hospital Mergers Alarm Doctors, Patients

Health Ministry plan to cut costs by merging and closing hospitals worries medics and patients alike.

Marian Chiriac

Doctors and patients in Romania are voicing concern over government plans to merge and close hospitals in order to save money.

Of 435 hospitals, 182 are to close in coming months. Of those, 111 will be merged into other institutions, while the remaining 71 will be converted into elderly homes or emergency centres.

The Health Minister, Attila Cseke, says the main reason behind the restructuring of healthcare is “the need for better treatment for patients.

“Hospital reorganization is our main objective this year, required by the need for appropriate treatment for patients and less by financial shortcomings, although those are also important,” Cseke told reporters.

While the minister insists patient care is the priority, Bucharest will save around 20 million lei [4.8 million euros] per year following the reorganization. Most of the savings will come from the salaries and bonuses of the 560 managers who will be cut.

“No doctor or nurse will lose their jobs. The only positions being cut are in the management of the hospitals that have to be merged or converted,” Cseke said.

The minister said Romania needs more emergency centres and old-age homes and fewer hospitals, which are underused. Social Services data indicate that over 2,800 people are on waiting lists for places in elderly homes.

Some doctors and patients are unhappy about the Health Ministry's plans. "Such measures will affect the standard of service. Our concern is that short-sighted economies will end up costing money and result in patient care going backwards," Dr Horatiu Muntean, from Bucharest, told Balkan Insight.

Patients fear hospital mergers will mean they have to travel far further for treatment. "There is a hospital about 20km from my home, but once it closes I will have to go over 80km to the nearest medical centre, which is expensive and time-consuming," Gheorghe Chelemen, a pensioner from Agnita, southern Transylvania, told the daily newspaper Adevarul.

Romania has been struggling to reform its public health sector, which has fallen into growing chaos as a result of chronic underinvestment.

Hospitals around the country are understaffed and are short of specialists and modern medical equipment. Low pay in the health sector and the government’s unwillingness to carry out changes have prompted an exodus of doctors and nurses who have gone abroad seeking better jobs.

Last year, the EU’s poorest member state spent only around 4.2 per cent of its GDP on healthcare, almost half the EU average. Unsurprisingly, the healthcare system is considered one of the worst in Europe. Last year it ranked last among 33 countries, according to the European Healthcare Consumer Index.

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