The Slovenia Times

Turbulence Ahead for the Health Care Sector


On 11 August Simon Vrhunec will hand over his duties as the head of UKC Ljubljana, Slovenia's biggest hospital, to Andrej Baričič. This will be a provisional solution, as Baričič is taking over as caretaker until a new director is appointed.

The selection of the new boss at the scandal-plagued hospital will be closely watched, as Vrhunec is leaving amidst several scandals that have tarnished the hospital's reputation.

Just as Vrhunec is leaving, two key reports are expected, dealing respectively with suspected wrongdoing at the neurological intensive care unit and the child heart surgery ward.

The neurology ward report in particular is eagerly anticipated, coming in the aftermath of revelations that a doctor, Ivan Radan, was suspected of the murder of at least eight terminally ill patients there.

While the actual report is yet to be revealed, media reports suggest that inspectors have discovered serious mistakes in the prescription and record-keeping of drugs, including drugs that Radan is believed to have used to kill his patients.

Radan attempted suicide while in custody on murder charges and is currently at the psychiatry ward of the UKC Maribor. He will remain in custody at least until 18 August.

Another key health sector appointment will be that of the head of the Health Insurance Institute (ZZZS), whose current boss Samo Fakin failed to get the parliamentary green light earlier this year for a third term due to concerns about his tenure voiced in particular by the ruling Modern Centre Party (SMC).

The ZZZS, the manager of the public health budget, furthermore faces a battle over financing.

The institute's general assembly will be in session in autumn in what will be the second attempt at rejigging the financial plan for the year, amidst a battle between representatives of patients and government officials over how additional funds should be used.

On a more positive note, construction of the second stage of the emergency care unit at UKC Ljubljana is expected in the coming weeks, after months of delays over the selection of the main contractor.

Moreover, the entire upgraded network of regional emergency care centres is due to start operating by the end of the year. The centre in Brežice is already up and running, while the others are currently being equipped.

The Health Ministry had planned a thorough reform of emergency care in the country that would shun the existing fragmented network in favour of stronger regional centres.

While the blueprint was welcomed by health industry professionals, vocal protests by locals in places where emergency care would be discontinued have forced the government to backtrack.

It appears that when Minister Milojka Kolar Celarc signs the new rule book on emergency care, the existing network will remain untouched, though building blocks will be put in place to reform the system in the future.

Another major project due by the end of the year is E-health. Electronic prescriptions will be introduced at the primary level in September while electronic referrals are to be operational by early next year.

At the strategic level, the Health Ministry is drawing up documents that will constitute yet another attempt at an in-depth reform of the entire health system.

A resolution on the national health care plan is to be adopted by the National Assembly in December, while an attendant analysis is due in autumn and several other bills will be put to public debate before the end of the year.

As the government is gearing up for reform, a mammoth task that has so far eluded all previous governments, trade unions are shaping up for a fight over pay and work standards.

Several trade unions representing doctors as well as nurses have indicated they might start striking in autumn if the documents, originally due by the summer, are not unveiled soon.

Despite huge appetites by the unions following years of austerity, the Health Ministry is unlikely to be able to grant their wishes for higher pay.

The provisional breakdown of budget funds for 2016 and 2017 suggest the Health Ministry will be starved of funds for at least two more years.


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