Hungarian physicians have to sign a new contract by the end of this week to be able to continue working in public care after March 1st. Under the new agreement, the base salary of doctors will increase significantly, but there might be a major setback in the additional benefits, so much so that for some it could fully negate the promised pay increase. As a result, employees of several hospitals across the country seem to be rejecting the contract, endangering the proper functioning of the healthcare system.
Major wage hike for doctors but only with strict conditions
Parliament approved the bill of a major wage hike for physicians last October. The new law grants a 120% salary increase to doctors in Hungary in three steps, reaching its maximum in January 2023. The law also criminalizes gratuities offered as bribes and sets a limit on the value of non-cash gifts from patients to doctors at five percent of the monthly minimum wage.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called the decision ‘unprecedented,’ which holds true given that Hungarian healthcare workers have not seen a significant increase in their salaries in the past century.
But the historic wage increase is bound to serious conditions, badly affecting many doctors.
One of the major points of the new regulation is that those doctors who want a wage increase have to sign a new contract with the government. As a result, they will lose their civil service status with the introduction of a new special one called ‘health service relations.’ Those who don’t sign the papers by the 1st of March will lose their right to work in public hospitals and specialist clinics and will be fired.
Due to some of the conditions in their contract, many doctors are refusing to sign it, Népszava reports, which could potentially endanger the proper functioning of the healthcare system.
According to the leftist daily, the content of the new contract has caused major tension across Hungary among trauma doctors, mainly because it is still unclear what will happen to the extra compensation given to doctors on top of their basic salaries.
Following the traumatologists of the Debrecen University Clinical Center, the doctors of the Department of Traumatology and Hand Surgery of the András Jósa County and Teaching Hospital in Nyíregyháza also decided not to sign the new contract.
The general surgeons, obstetricians, and gynecologists of the Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County Hospitals and University Teaching Hospital made the same decision.
According to the paper, doctors in Emergency departments are angered in several cities including Szolnok, Zalaegerszeg, Szekszárd, and Szeged. They are also complaining that the new contracts do not mention any additional benefits that would encourage and support emergency work.
As these extra benefits seem to be lost, outside doctors are no longer find on-call emergency room work appealing. It is already causing problems in many on-call positions, Népszava reported.
“We are talking about a net on-call hourly wage of five thousand forints (EUR 14), which we would like to also receive in the future,” one of the emergency doctors told the paper.
The Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) also commented on the issue of the new contracts.
Citing information received from doctors, the chamber believes the main problem is that doctors will receive less hourly wages during on-call shifts, at night, on weekends, and on holidays than during normal working hours. This, for many, means a step back from the level of promised salary increase, for some it would even negate it.
Therefore, MOK decided to ask National Hospital Director Zoltán Jenei to make a reassuring, fair decision by raising the minimum fees that can be given, and by financially recognizing the time off.
Many doctors not likely to sign contract
A few months ago the Hungarian Medical Chamber published a study trying to find out how many physicians would reject the new contract. When analyzing the answers, one of the most important results of the survey revealed that 77% of Hungarian doctors would not sign the new healthcare contract in its current form, and 40% would even leave public care for this reason.
Another survey by the Hungarian Chamber of Health Care Professionals (MESZK) found that nearly two-thirds of respondents were uncertain whether to sign the new contract, while every third refused to do so.
Gov’t gives carte blanch
At Thursday’s government press conference, Gergely Gulyás, the Head of the Prime Minister’s Office, talked about the issue. He said the government had decided to give carte blanch to the national hospital directorate regarding on-call regulations. Gulyás highlighted that the government does not think that the current on-call regulations are necessary to follow and that he is hopeful most doctors will sign the contract. He also denied rumors that the healthcare system would be in danger. He hopes that “cleaner conditions” and higher salaries of physicians will bring better and more efficient medical operations.
Featuredp photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI