...and soon only monkeys will be left working in Polish hospitals. But Poles don't seem to care.
Q: How much do doctors earn in Poland?
A: Bugger all.
OK, the cost of living in Poland is, for most things, much lower than in the West. But still, the conditions that fully trained doctors are being forced to work under is criminally bad here. What’s worse, Poles don’t seem to be able to grasp the problem.
Reuters reports that, after years of highly technical training:
Their average pay is 1,800 zlotys ($550) a month, only 70 percent of the average wage in industry, forcing many to find second jobs or work overtime. Hospitals are in debt to government, drug supppliers and utilities.
"We are increasingly desperate," said Zbigniew Strzelczak, an obstetrician-gynecologist with a state hospital in the southern city of Czestochowa, who came to Warsaw with his colleagues to protest in front of parliament.
"There are shortages in medical equipment, medicine -- basic stuff. This government, as all its predecessors, does not want to deal with this problem. It just cannot be like this."
An air traffic controller here – who has a job with equal responcibility but with much less training - gets about six times more in basic salary than a doctor!
On April 3 doctors staged a one-day strike, where they only cared for patients needing emergency treatment. They are demanding a 30% increase this year and a one hundred percent increase the year after that. That would bring their wages up to just over 4,000 zlotys a month – still a ridiculously low wage for such a skilled and vital workforce.
You would think that Poles, who rely as we all do on these workers for maintaining our health and occasionally saving our lives, would be up in arms about this and would be keen to lend their support to such protest action, wouldn’t you? Well, you would be wrong.
Many Poles I have talked to about this just sneer at doctors, saying, “Well, they take bribes, you know?”
Yes, I did know that. You can bribe the doctor to move you up waiting lists, etc. That’s been going on here for decades. But is it really surprising that they are taking bribes when they get treated with such contempt by society?
The Health Minister, former heart surgeon Zbigniew Religa, has offered to bring forward a 30% increase this year. And that’s all he says can be afforded.
Medical workers remained skeptical.
"What they offer is a one-off increase only for some medical staff and the rest is just gibberish. There will surely be more protests," said Krzysztof Bukiel, the head of the Polish Doctors Union. "The situation is hopeless and without any prospects."
Poland spends around 6 percent of its gross domestic product on health, according to 2003 data, among the lowest levels in the OECD club of the world's most developed countries.
Polish doctors are starting to vote with their feet. Since it joined the EU last year 5% of medical staff have left Poland, gone to countries where they get more respect.
One day Poles are going to wake up to discover that there are no doctors left in the country at all. And it will be their own fault.
Will the last doctor to leave Poland please turn off the lights.
See latest developments on this story here and here.