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Coronavirus: One-time Extra Pay for Many Healthcare Workers Disappoint Those Left Out

Fanni Kaszás 2020.06.09.

In April, the government announced a one-time gross subsidy payment of HUF 500,000 (EUR 1,445) for all healthcare workers, which they planned to pay out in June. However, since then it turned out that the one-time bonus will only be paid in July. In addition, not all healthcare workers will receive the extra benefit, for example, pharmacists and social institution nurses will be excluded. 

The one-time gross subsidy of HUF 500,000 (EUR 1366) for all healthcare workers which the government planned to pay out by June, cost the budget approximately HUF 70 billion (EUR 191 million). In addition, they also promised a 20% salary increase starting in November for nurses and healthcare professionals. Recently, it caused outrage that healthcare professionals will only receive the extra benefits in July instead of the previously mentioned June deadline and many also claim that healthcare workers need more than a one-time bonus.

Péter Álmos, vice-president of the Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK), said to Hungarian commercial channel RTL Klub, that although the extra benefit of HUF 500,000 promised by Viktor Orbán to healthcare workers due to the coronavirus pandemic and their fight on the front-lines comes in handy, it is not enough. Doctors want regularity and a predictable life, Álmos said.

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There is no trace of wage increases for doctors in next year’s draft budget, which they had already discussed with the government before the epidemic. The MOK fears that if the government does not raise wages, even more doctors could leave the country or even the profession.

Many people were also outraged by the fact that according to Minister Miklós Kásler, not all healthcare workers would receive the gross HUF 500,000 promised for outstanding performance during the coronavirus epidemic, for example, pharmacists and nurses in social institutions will be excluded from it.

According to the minister, physiotherapists, nursing home workers, and home helpers were left out because they are employed by churches, entrepreneurs, associations, and municipalities, and therefore are not “specifically healthcare workers” in his interpretation.

The move was heavily criticized by several opposition parties, and green liberal party Párbeszéd even submitted a motion for a resolution to the National Assembly to ensure that “publicly funded and private healthcare workers, pharmacists, pharmacy workers, nurses, physiotherapists, and social workers also receive the one-off payment.”

President of the Hungarian Chamber of Pharmacists Zoltán Hankó, also responded to Kásler’s announcement in a statement. However, the statement is quite interesting, because before turning to criticism and arguments, Hankó began by claiming that he is a conservative and it is not a political attack:

Before anyone misinterprets me, I want to make it clear that my writing is not an opposition attack. I am a Hungarian (more precisely Szekler-Hungarian), a person with national commitment, a believer with a conservative value system, and the head of a professional advocacy organization which has been a strategic partner of the Hungarian Government since 2010.

The president then continued by saying that “specialists in pharmacies are healthcare workers under the Health Act as well as the Drug-Economy Act, who, moreover, work in healthcare institutions, so they rightly expected to be included in the concept of ‘all healthcare workers.'” He added that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sent them a letter back in March stating that the government is counting on their work in this difficult situation as their work is essential to the healthcare system.

Hankó said “it is not just about money, but also about the fact that suddenly basic things, our role in healing, are suddenly being questioned. It’s a very big disappointment, as the communication was that every healthcare worker would get it, it wouldn’t have occurred to us that we weren’t seen as that.”

Among other comments, Hankó also corrected Kásler’s material error in justifying the pharmacists’ omission by saying they were working at a 25% profit, while he probably wanted to make a 25% margin – but Hankó said “unfortunately, that’s not true yet.” He ended his statement by saying he would “remain committed to continuing our strategic collaboration with the government. In any case, based on the experience of the last thirty years, there is no other alternative for us. ”

Since then, the Ministry of Human resources announced that hospital pharmacists and physiotherapists will also receive the one-time bonus. This, however, according to Hankó, only affects about five hundred workers, who get the bonus “very rightly, as they work specifically in hospitals. But there were about twelve thousand pharmacists and section assistants working in pharmacies all over the country.”

On Monday, the National Association of Hungarian Dietitians also announced that they were shocked to learn that dietitians do not receive the one-time benefit either. They said that they “would like to draw the attention of Minister Miklós Kásler to the fact that dietitians also provided maximum support for health workers, doctors, nurses, assistants, ambulance services, and physiotherapists and provided food to patients during the coronavirus crisis.”

featured photo: Attila Balázs/MTI

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