On Tuesday morning, beginning at 9 a.m., healthcare workers across the country participated in an hour-long warning strike whose objective was to draw politicians' attention to the fact that the healthcare sector is in need of additional funds. Hospitals' primary concern is the Health Insurance Fund's exceeding of contract volumes and the resulting lengthy waiting lists for care.
The goal of this warning strike was to draw the state's attention to the fact that the Health Insurance Fund's budget does not cover patients' actual medical needs. Once a hospital exceeds contract volume, patients are treated largely at the hospital's expnse, as once contract volume is exceeded, the insurance fund only covers one third of the cost of services rendered, reported ETV's nightly news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera."
"The first thing that people feel firsthand is that waiting lists are very long," said Estonian Medical Association Secretary General Katrin Rehemaa. "Hospitals could actually handle accepting more patients, treat more patients right in the hospital, but since there is no funding then they can't do that, because it isn't possible to do that forever with the 0.3 coefficient."
She added that all in all, long waiting lists end up costing everyone more.
"Very many patients end up going from that waiting list to the emergency room with their condition which has turned acute, which must then be treated as an emergency and at much higher cost," Rehemaa explained.
Healthcare workers are hoping with the strike that the matter of how to find more funding for healthcare, both for sufficient patient medical care as well as for employees' wages — so that the latter do not end up deserting to Finland in search of better wages — will begin to be taken seriously on the political level.
"Naturally we will hope for the best and make our plans according to the situation," said Rehemaa, according to whom a longer future strike cannot be ruled out.
Scheduled care interrupted
During the one-hour strike, scheduled outpatient appointments, testing and procedures as well as scheduled inpatient treatment were put on hold for one hour at hospitals and family health centers alike.
Paramedics, emergency rooms and emergency medical care, however, continued operation as usual.
Attempts are being made to promptly reschedule all medical appointments canceled as a result of this strike; medical institutions are working on rescheduling appointments as well as notifying patients of any changes, confirmed strike organizers.
"The strike is not against our patients; rather it is in their best interests," explained Tartu Medical Association Chairman Jaan Sütt. "Nobody will have to go without medical care as a result. We apologize for the increased wait times caused and ask everyone to please be understanding."
Sütt added that one goal of the strike was to demonstrate that concrete alone does not treat anyody, and if hospitals begin to get paid less for medical care and doctors and nurses are in turn threatened by wage cuts, then new hospital buildings may end up fairly empty of healthcare workers.
Presentations were given in hospitals during the hour-long strike, and in Tartu, healthcare employee on strike gathered by the hospital's new entrance, where strikers and medical students formed a "health hallway" together symbolizing the hospital of the future, where lack of funds would leave healthcare workers with no other option but to simply tell their patients, "Be well!"
Union of Estonian Healthcare Professionals (ETK) representative Egle Sarap-Nöps noted that the recently expanded Tartu University Hospital (TÜK) was already in a situation where the hospital has the capacity, but not the money, to treat more patients.
"We have already gotten far enough that we have the technology and we have the rooms as well — this can be seen here in Tartu, at least, and there are other hospitals as well who have invested a great deal into their facilities," said Sarap-Nöps. "The biggest concern currently is that we cannot provide patients care in the amount and degree for which we already have the capacity to do so."
According to Sütt, Health Insurance Fund funding is actually 74 million euros short of actual treatment needs. "If this tendency continues, hospitals will soon run out of staff," he warned.
The strikers' message is that if healthcare is not provided with additional funding, TÜK's hallways will soon be empty of staff as well. If Tuesday's strike does not produce the expected results, Tartu Medical Association's leadership has vowed to go on strike again.
Ossinovski: Demands in line with ministry's positions
Minister of Health and Labor Jevgeni Ossinovski told "Aktuaalne kaamera" that Estonia's healthcare workers' messages and demands are 100 percent in line with the Ministry of Social Affairs' positions.
"I have already likewise submitted corresponding proposals to the Estonian government, and in the long term, the government is generally of the same opinion that additional funding is needed," said Ossinovski. "I hope that in the coming months we will reach concrete decisions on the government level which will provide a long-term sense of security to the healthcare public and the healthcare sector."
Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla