The Slovenia Times

Long queues spotlight crisis in Slovenian healthcare

Health & Medicine

Long queues of patients lining up since early hours to sign up for a general practitioner at one of the units of the Ljubljana Community Health Centre have thrown spotlight on an acute crisis in Slovenia's healthcare.

Due to a shortage of doctors, in particular in primary care, more than 132,000 people in Slovenia do not have their named GP and the number keeps increasing as doctors retire or leave to work elsewhere.

When sick many such patients have seen no other option but turn up at A&E departments even for non-emergency conditions, which led to extremely long wait times in the days ahead of the New Year, in particular in Ljubljana.

In a bid to solve the problem, a law that entered into force on 1 January provided for 94 new doctor's offices for patients without a named GP to open around the country. Doctors and nurses will work there voluntarily on top of their regular hours for extra pay.

The demand is enormous. As two new doctors started taking patients at the Bežigrad unit of the Ljubljana Community Health Centre on 3 January, patients rushed in the hope of signing up, but many failed as each of the GPs takes only up to 70 patients daily.

As a result, long queues formed earlier each morning and by 6 January media reported that the line was close to one kilometre long as first patients arrived as early as midnight. Some of them brought blankets and chairs to ease their wait.

Many of them came not for themselves but for their relatives. However, there were also older people among them, including a man who secured his spot at the head of the line by arriving at midnight.

"It's a disgrace! You've been paying for health insurance your whole life, and then, at the age of 85, you have to wait from 3am so you can have your doctor," a lady standing next to him told the news portal

Many of those waiting did not know whether they will get the chance to sign up. "If you waited yesterday and didn't get your turn, you can come again today," a lady told TV Slovenija.

The two new doctor's offices at the Bežigrad unit will be able to take around 2,500 patients. Meanwhile, 19 surgeries for patients without GPs are planned to open in Ljubljana, where around 15,000 patients are struggling to find a GP.

The health centre said the reason for the queues was because it was only possible to sign up for a GP in person. However, Health Minister Danijel Bešič Loredan said in a digital era a better solution should be found, such as letting patients sign up over the phone.

The health centre responded by saying it would start ringing up patients who have lost a named GP next week, starting with vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and people with chronic conditions.

The country's Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina described the situation over the shortage of GPs as alarming and as a "grave systemic violation of human rights". He was "shocked" at the queueing at the Ljubljana Community Health Centre and urged those responsible to act.

However, the health minister said "no one can secure access to GP immediately" as the country is short of 300 family doctors.

He said retired doctors and year 3 and 4 medical school speciality trainees would be able to work at the surgeries for patients without a named GP.

According to Ljubljana Community Health Centre medical director Tea Stegne Ignjatovič, doctors will get around €80 net per hour and nurses around €35 for work in those offices.

Some have criticised the solution arguing it would only undermine the public healthcare system further because work at those offices will be more lucrative.

To push for solutions a civil initiative called Voice of the People will stage what it has dubbed as a patients' strike on 10 January, a day before doctors are holding a 24-hour token strike to demand for pay to be raised by the same number of brackets for all doctors.

The government, which has approved a more substantial pay rise for junior doctors than for the most senior ones, says the strike is unwarranted. The health minister also criticised the civil initiative's decision to hold rallies.


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