Janez Poklukar gets committee nod to become new health minister

Ljubljana – Janez Poklukar, the director of the University Medical Centre Ljubljana, has been endorsed by the Health Committee as candidate for health minister. The National Assembly vote is scheduled for next week.

The 42-year-old medical doctor told the committee that in addition to fighting the Covid-19 epidemic, his priorities would be to strengthen primary care, expand integrated care, reform financing, improve work conditions, and work to set up an agency for quality in healthcare.

In fighting the epidemic, vaccination would be key. The goal is to secure sufficient vaccines and experts must convince the people to get their shots, he said.

The entire health system must be based on strong primary care, which requires strengthening community health centres and preventive programmes, and expanding measures to promote healthy living.

He said integrated care – which focuses on more coordinated and integrated forms of care provision – had to be provided at all levels.

Another major point of his programme is elderly care, with Poklukar noting that care homes had in effect become nursing hospitals, without actually providing the requisite standards of care.

Turning to hospital management, an area he knows well as the director first of the Jesenice hospital and now of the country’s largest hospital system, he said managers needed to get better management tools.

It is also necessary to stop the outflow of care staff and, where necessary, simplify procedures for importing foreign staff.

He argued that public healthcare needed to be strictly separated from private care.

As for the current financing system, he said it was not sustainable and new sources would have to be found, which would include re-examining the scope of services covered by mandatory health insurance and reforming top-up insurance.

However, he argued against abolishing supplementary insurance, an idea long entertained by conservative parties, saying it had to be reformed instead.

Commenting on the wishes of some professional groups to leave the single public sector pay system – doctors are one such group – Poklukar said stakeholders in healthcare would first have to come to a common position on what they want “but it cannot be that only one group leaves”.

Opposition MPs questioned some of his managerial decisions in his current job and some argued he was short on specifics. The Left expressed concern that he would “privatise and pick apart public healthcare”.

But he also received commendation from both the ranks of the coalition and the opposition.

New Slovenia (NSi) deputy Iva Dimic said he had proved himself as a good crisis manager, with SocDem MP Dejan Židan describing him as “good news from a bad government”.

Poklukar has headed UKC Ljubljana since August 2019 after a five-year stint leading the Jesenice hospital, which he is credited with having financially restructured.

During his stint at UKC Ljubljana, he has been credited with rapidly expanding capacity for Covid-19 patients, in particular by overseeing the creation of a new Covid-19 ward in just two weeks in a part of the hospital that had been empty for years.