While the backlog of hospital treatment across Hungary grew to record heights, some important data regarding Hungary’s hospital wait lists have disappeared from the official website. Although previously it was possible to check the maximum and minimum amount of time someone had to wait for certain surgeries, the figures recently became unavailable, news site Válasz Online reports.
Hungary’s relevant data provision practice had been in use since 2012, up until now, it seems.
Currently, however, the National Health Insurance Fund Manager’s (NEAK) official website for the hospital wait list only shows an average waiting time and a median waiting time, but both figures refer to retrospective data for the past six months.
Previously available information on the minimum and maximum waiting times for an operation can no longer be accessed.
In other words, the website does not publish an estimation for the future anymore (which is the point of the wait list), but only figures regarding to the past.
No official explanation has been given as to the reason for the reduction of the data. However, as Válasz Online — which at the time of the data loss was working on an article comparing the wait lists of 2010 when Fidesz came into power, until 2022 –points out, the “refinement of the data” may have something to do with the upcoming parliamentary elections in April.
The data on the hospital wait lists does not paint a very positive picture of the Hungarian healthcare system indeed.
Seven years wait time for a hip replacement surgery
We have already reported on the drastic increase in hospital wait lists in Hungary several times now. The situation has escalated so much so, that by last December the number of people awaiting surgery hit a new record high exceeding 50,000.
In a recent article published last month, news site Pénzcentrum, examining NEAK’s records, also found that the situation has not improved compared to recent years, but rather has worsened.
According to the site, for hip and knee replacement, spine surgery, orthopaedic major surgery, hernia surgery, and thyroid surgery, the number of patients waiting for treatment has increased significantly in just one year. Almost 7,600, or 80 percent more patients are waiting for cataract surgery than in 2021. Meanwhile, the average nationwide estimated wait time for hip replacement surgery was 291 days in 2019, rising to 324 days in May 2020, and 371 days in January 2021. Currently, the average estimated wait time for such surgery is 528 days (nearly a year and a half).
However, the maximum wait time is several times longer in many regions: in the Transdanubian region, for example, the database showed a wait time of 2,521 days – which is almost seven years.
Wait lists have increased partly because of the imposed coronavirus restrictions, but also because patients have been either reluctant to visit a doctor during the epidemic, or they were not allowed to due to the Covid-19 situation, or have not been to the examinations that would allow them to be booked for surgery.
The problem is not a completely new phenomenon, however. Between 2014 and 2020, NEAK spent a total of around HUF 30 billion to tackle a record backlog of hospital treatment across Hungary. Five billion forints were also earmarked for the wait list reduction in 2021. The government announced at the end of the summer that it would restart the program from autumn, but the new wave of the Covid-19 epidemic meant that it had to be stopped even before it started.
Growing role of private healthcare
The direct consequence of long wait times is that it drives people to private providers where they don’t have to wait for months, sometimes even years- they just have to pay often extremely hefty prices. This is exactly what happened in Hungary, writes Válasz Online.
According to the portal, in 2010, Polish people spent the most on healthcare among the Visegrad countries, with each resident paying yearly on average $459 for their healthcare, OECD data shows. Hungary was in second place, only slightly behind ($458). The latest figures, however, reveal that since then Hungarians have far surpassed the v4 group, with a yearly $611. There is no other country in the Visegrad group with a per capita expenditure over $500.
All this puts a huge financial burden on even the wealthier Hungarians, not to mention the health status and life expectancy of poorer classes.
Featured photo illustration via pixabay.com