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TALLINN – Citing their dissatisfaction with the government's health care policy, Estonian medical and health services unions are planning to start a political strike on May 15 to demand additional funding for the sector.
"The Estonian Medical Association, the Estonian Union of Healthcare Professionals and the Estonian Nurses' Association have been forced to conclude that few possibilities remain to preserve industrial peace. Preparations for stopping work in hospitals are under way and May 15 has been set as the starting date of the strike," the three unions said on Wednesday.
The unions say they are about to take the action because the government has not placed additional money in the sector. In the estimate of the organizations, the system has a shortfall of more than 70 million compared with the actual need for the treatment of patients and money is missing for the treatment of more than 200,000 patients.
The organizations also argue that Prime Minister Juri Ratas told health care workers in December 2016 that finding sustainable solutions for long-term financing of health care has reached the home stretch and the government will make necessary political decisions on April 11.
Health care has been underfinanced in Estonia for years and taking of necessary measures has been put off for too long, which means that the request for additional money for health care is not just one request among others but represents a systemic problem the solving of which is essential, Minister of Health and Labor Jevgeni Ossinovski said.
"The Health Insurance Fund has been operating with a negative net performance since 2013 and has been using its reserve to finance its activities. The outcome of this is felt by the patients every day – in order to avoid a complete bankruptcy of the Health Insurance Fund, treatment volumes have been reduced and the entry of new, efficient methods of treatment and medicines into the market has been postponed," Ossinovski told BNS in his response to the announcement of three medical unions Wednesday afternoon that they are making preparations for a strike to start on May 15.
The minister said that according to estimates by the Health Insurance Fund, eliminating the queues in access to medical services would cost to the tune of 70 million euros now and the necessary amount of extra money would grow to some 100 million euros over the next five years.
"The government has promised that in order to shorten the queues, the necessary amount of money will be given to the Health Insurance Fund from the state budget and discussions on the state budget strategy will continue already tomorrow," Ossinovski said. "Crisis in health care is not a matter of joke and we must not underestimate the seriousness of the situation."