As the Estonian government failed to reach a decision regarding the additional funding of healthcare by Wednesday, healthcare workers announced a political strike, adding that they are prepared to strike for months if necessary, daily Eesti Päevaleht reports.
"We have considered our strike funds and I believe that we could be speaking of months, not weeks, when it comes to the possible length of the strike," secretary general of the Estonian Medical Association Katrin Rehemaa said.
She did not see giving up without results as an option. "Our colleagues working in hospitals are in great trouble as they want to do their job and help their patients but cannot do so as their work is not being funded," Rehemaa explained, adding that healthcare workers would not be content with a single money injection and would not be restoring the obligation to refrain from striking until a decision had been made to fund the medical sector long-term.
The association's secretary general said that they are prepared to strike for as long as necessary to reach a satisfying conclusion, but what that conclusion would be was difficult to say at the moment. "We will wait and see what kind of decisions we receive from the government," she noted.
Healthcare has been underfinanced in Estonia for years and the taking of necessary measures has been put off for too long, Minister of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) said on Wednesday. "So the request for additional money for healthcare is not just one request among others but represents a systemic problem, the solving of which is essential," he explained.
The Ministry of Social Affairs has suggested that as there are 210,000 non-working pensioners, the Health Insurance Fund could be financed from the state budget in the amount that those people would otherwise have to pay. If the state paid the Health Insurance Fund 12 percent of the retirement allowance for every person, it would amount to a total of €130 million, an amount which would cover the current treatment funding deficit.
Minister of Finance Sven Sester did not support this plan, however he also did not propose any concrete solutions or issue a statement that it was impossible to find additional money. Budget talks will continue in the Cabinet on Thursday. "We will go through all applications in the process," Sester said. The minister did not have time for a longer explanation, however he said that the expected decision would not depend solely on him. "The government as a whole will make any funding decisions," he noted.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas agreed with Ossinovski in that healthcare needs additional funding, but admitted that extra time is needed in order to reach a decision. "The government is doing its best to find additional resources and I am convinced that we will find them," he said.
He admitted that the decision will take some more time, but emphasized that the question of additional healthcare funding would not be disregarded. "The government's priority is that healthcare must be easier to access," said Ratas. "Healthcare funding was on the table when we discussed the state budget strategy at the beginning of the week. In earlier years, this question has been under discussion for a month or even longer."
Editor: Aili Vahtla