More and more eastern European doctors are heading west as government economic austerity measures eat into their pay and conditions deteriorate, leaving behind understaffed health systems in crisis.
From Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, growing numbers of physicians, surgeons, anesthetists and other specialists are packing up for countries like Britain, Germany and Sweden.
â€œThere are no prospects for me in Hungary,â€ said surgeon Csaba Andok, who is in his 50â€™. â€œI am leaving for Germany where my work is appreciated.â€ Last year 1,111 physicians applied to the Hungarian government for a certificate allowing them to work abroad.
This may represent just a fraction of the countryâ€™s 30.000 practicing doctors but, in a worrying trend for the future, it involves many of the 800 new graduates every year.
â€œDiscontent is widespread among doctors, primarily due to deteriorating salary conditionsâ€, Andok said. â€œOur caseloads have increased over the past year, but we still get the same pay, 550-740Euros per month, a salary comparable to that of a waiter in a trendy cafÃ©. Work is carried out by a very limited staff and the shortage of personnel makes daily pressure unbearable,â€ Andok said.
The economic crisis that hit Hungary in 2008 led the government to impose stiff austerity measures, including a sales tax hike, the scraping of 13th month annual bonuses and reduced heating subsidies.
The picture is not rosier in Romania where medical professionals have seen their salaries cut by at least 13 percent since the government introduced cost-cutting measures last July. The number of doctors wanting to leave the country almost doubled in 2010 to 2.779 from the previous year, according to the official figures.
In Bulgaria, nurses are leaving at the rate of 1.200 per year, estimates the association of medical professionals. They earn about 400-500 leva (205-255Euros) per month, several times less than the average pay of nurses in Britain.
The exodus is hammering the healthcare system in the EUâ€™s poorest member states, in which the health ministry says has around half the 60.000 nurses the association of medical professional says it needs to function properly.
The Bulgarian emergency and anesthesia services are particularly hurt by the departure of hundreds of doctors a year, according to the union officials. Small hospitals meanwhile lack basic equipment and material, come even asking patients to bring along their own sheets.
In Estonia the complaints that push professionals to consider emigration are less about salaries than about standards and disheartening bureaucracy.
â€œThe current health system in Estonia is a lot like it was during the Soviet era, with bureaucrats deciding how and for what funds are given,â€ said doctor Ivo Kolts, who also teaches anatomy at Tartu University.
â€œEstonian hospitals are often interested in making useless analyses and computer screenings because the state pays for such studies, regardless of whether a patient needs them or not. The quality of treatment is often not the priority.â€
Desperate Hungarian doctors say they are considering resorting to drastic tactics such as their Czech colleagues: around 3000 of them handed out their resignations en masse in December. The action prompted the government to agree to several pay rises until 2013.
Hungaryâ€™s center-right government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban says they are working to improve work conditions for the healthcare employees, but the details remain vague.
In the meantime retired doctors are being called back into service to fill vacant posts particularly in the countryside.
The governments in Bulgaria and Romania have not said how they plan to stop the mass exodus.
Poland has managed to stem a similar outflow of medical staff since 2005 by increasing salaries and investing in training, with some professionals now choosing to return.
Source of the article here: http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/eeurope-health.9da