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Minister's suprise decision to close down and amalgamate local public health directorates causes controversy in Romania.
Romania is reorganizing its public health service to reduce costs, and around 5 per cent of the staff will be axed, the Health Minister, Eugen Nicolaescu, announced on Tuesday.
“This is the most important change to be made to the medical system in the last 15 years," the minister said.
"The existing 42 health insurance offices and the public health directorates will be turned into just eight regional offices, while part of the current staff will be laid off,” Nicolaescu continued.
Romania has 41 counties and the capital, Bucharest, each with its own regional health insurance headquarters.
Nicolaescu claimed the change will allow the Health Ministry to save an “important part” of its budget and redirect more of the cash to patients.
The announced change came as a surprise, as there were no previous hints about the idea. “Is unusual to find out such information from the media. The Minister should have discussed it before with people from the health service,” Robert Danca, head of a local health insurance office, said. “Such a reorganization should not take place suddenly”.
Romania’s health insurance offices are managed by the National Health Insurance Home, which has a yearly budget of around 4 billion euro and supports the finances of the health system through contributions from taxpayers.
The health system is currently facing many changes. In recent years, the country has been struggling to reform its public health sector, which has fallen into growing problems as a result of years of underinvestment. Hospitals are understaffed and are short of specialists and modern equipment.
Low pay in the health sector and the government’s apparent unwillingness to carry out changes are widely blamed for an exodus of doctors and nurses.
The average salary of a junior doctor in Romania is around 300 euro a month. A similarly qualified doctor working in Britain, for example, can expect to earn many times that figure.
Polls show that over 90 per cent of Romanians are unhappy with the services provided by the public health system.
Many blame the problems in the system on inefficient management, while 42 per cent believe that insufficient financing is the problem.
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