Why this story matters:
Whenever a foreigner, especially from Western Europe, learns that the basic wage of a Polish MD in the 4 years after his degree is 500 euros, they often think they are being played.
The reality of Polish healthcare is far from the glammed-up world of American medical dramas. In fact, it's more like a horror film. Once in a while, we hear that a Polish doctor has died in a hospital after working too many days in a row with no sleep.
Low wages, lack of staff, year-long queues for basic procedures -- all this stems from the fact that Poland's health service is underfinanced, ranking way below the European average. For years, governments did very little about it.
This is why, last year, one of the dominant stories in Polish media was the hunger strike organized by the young Polish doctors' association (Porozumienie Rezydentów) in Warsaw. Yet even this initiative, coupled with regular protests in different cities, was fruitless.
What finally made the government yield, was money. Thousands of doctors across the country started to terminate the so-called opt-out agreements that had allowed them to work overtime against EU regulations. Suddenly it became loud and clear -- without them, Polish health service was paralyzed. Many hospitals had to close down departments.
Some believed it was a ruthless and selfish move on doctors' part. After all, the Hippocrates oath reads that the patient's interest is their priority. But, contrary to popular belief, doctors are not gods.
In order to do their jobs well, they need to rest, have time to study and, above all, they deserve a livable wage.
Hopefully this case is not a one-time victory but a beginning of a much needed reform that will establish new standards in Polish healthcare.
Details from the story:
- The basic salary of a young doctor from Poland for the first 4 years of his professional career is 500 euros.
- In 2016, the government spent 4.4% of the country's GDP on health services -- one of the lowest amounts in OECD, just above Turkey and Latvia.
- In comparison, Germany spent 9.5%. Insufficient funding leads to a shortage of doctors. The ones remaining have to work much more than the European law allows -- to make a living but also to satisfy the needs of the system. Hence, the opt-out agreements, which the doctors sign to bypass EU work-time restrictions.
- The hunger strike began October 2, 2017 and lasted a few weeks. Over 20 doctors participated.In January, thousands of doctors announced that they would terminate the opt-out agreements. Many hospital departments stopped functioning.
- The agreement was signed on Febrary 8, 2018. It guarantees that health care funding will steadily increase reaching 6% GDP in 2024. The basic wage will rise to 4,000 zloty (approx 950 euros). Among its crucial points are many others concerning working conditions in hospitals.
- Both the hunger strike and the protests were joined by nurses, ambulance workers and other healthcare professionals.What casts a shadow on the historical agreement is the fact that it has been signed only by the doctors and the Minister of Health, Łukasz Szumowski.
- Although higher GDP spending will benefit the entire system, the other health service employees were not granted raises. The minister promised to reach an agreement with them by the end of 2018.