Family doctors launch strike action

Over 600 family physicians across Latvia are going on strike today by suspending the provision of government-funded services at noon.

Since negotiations between the Health Ministry and the family physicians’ association ended without a deal last week, the medics decided to go ahead with their strike on July 3. The action will continue for at least a month until an agreement is reached with the government on meeting the medics’ demands.

In the meantime, the family physicians will not be providing government-funded health care services to their patients.

More than 600 family physicians have confirmed their participation in the strike.

The health service has posted a special interactive map on its website informing patients on possibilities to receive medical assistance.

As of 12:00 today, primary care will be provided at hospitals, health centers, outpatient clinics, as well as other medical institutions. Also, some family physicians who are not joining the strike will continue to accept patients.

One of the family physicians’ demands is to raise the capitation pay (the amount doctors are paid per patient they have registered) by 30 percent, while the Health Ministry is only offering to increase the medics’ salaries with capitation money included.

Other demands increase 30% pay rises for nursing assistants for the next three years and a commitment not to force doctors to use the government's troubled e-health system until its utility has been completely proven. There are also various items on the government's healthcare reform plan to which family doctors object and are demanding be dropped.

The family physicians are also resisting the government’s idea to set up joint practices of family physicians. Sarmite Veida, the leader of the Latvian Association of Family Physicians, says that such joint practices would mean late-night and weekend shifts for the medics.

"How long the strike will last, we cannot say. It depends upon the government. As soon as we reach an agreement, the strike can finish," Veide said on Latvian Radio.

On June 30 Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis made a last-ditch attempt to avoid a strike by appealing directly to doctors.

"Latvian doctors, at this time, I appeal to each of you. I always appreciate your work and views, you are doing a very important and hard work, I have listened to the problems of the industry and came to understand that there are many things to do... to move from words to action, the government has embarked on a serious effort to re-organize the health sector," Kucinskis said in an open letter, promising that next year more money would be made available.

However, that was brushed aside by Liga Kozlovska of the Rural Family Doctors Association who said it was just a "verbal promise" and demanded "documentary proof" before members would believe it.

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