Health care professionals' unions say a recent move by the Ministry of Social Affairs to lower the nominal workload per patient in long-term nursing care is an attempt to cover up a funding problem. They say the new figures will harm chronically ill patients' interests.
The Ministry of Social Affairs is planning to raise the standard patient-nurse ratio in inpatient nursing care from 10 to 20 patients per nurse.
"We could not find any explanation for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health Insurance Fund plan to double the number of patients per nurse, until closely guarded figures were revealed at a meeting [Monday]. The Health Insurance Fund is paying for only 74 minutes out of 132, or a little over half of nurses' working hours required for providing nursing care," a joint statement from Estonia's biggest doctors' and nurses' unions said.
"In the nursing care reforms, Minister of Social Affairs Taavi Rõivas has found an elegant way to legalize the current illegal practice and simply get rid of nurses' work minutes which thus far have not been compensated," the statement said.
Rõivas said earlier in the month on uudised.err.ee that it was not as if the nurses were being denied pay for actual time worked; he said the figures were theoretical inputs. But the health care professionals said in the latest statement that there was consensus between hospitals and medics that the current level of 132 minutes per patient per day was "more or less normal."
Changing that could risk patient well-being, they said.
"The circumstances and numbers that have emerged in the discussions over reforming nursing care show that patients' bad situation and constant complaints are the consequence of Social Affairs Ministry's targeted activity and clearly insufficient funding."