Estonia trying to lure Latvia's doctors

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Estonian hospitals are looking for employees in Latvia, with classifieds websites bursting with job offers for Latvian doctors. As Estonia's own healthcare specialists flock to Helsinki and Stockholm for better pay, the country has started to look for personnel elsewhere, including Latvia, reported LTV February 20.

The Ida-Viru Central Hospital lies five hours from Riga and 50 km from Narva. The Russian language is often heard on the streets of Kohtla-Järve, a town built around the oil shale industry. 

Doctor Mihailo Smelskiy from Ukraine is one of the guest specialists at the hospital. He's currently studying Estonian, after being hired in December.

"It's difficult in Ukraine currently. Doctors don't get paid well. The work environment is much better here, and the opportunities for a career. That's why many of my colleagues have chosen Estonia," said Smelskiy. 

Seeing as locals have left for a better life, guest workers can get housing just for paying their utility bills. The hospital employs 40 guest workers, most of them from Ukraine, Russia and Moldova. 

"We're not looking only at Latvia [for guest doctors]. Now doctors can work everywhere. We can't say we'd like to hire a gynecologist or radiologist from Latvia. But our hospital is ready to admit all doctors of these trades. Of course it all depends on the experience and the doctor itself," said hospital head Tarmo Bakler.

The hospital is planning to set up a therapy building. The current one has 300 beds, and the hospital offers both emergency treatment and scheduled manipulations.

"We have a competitive environment... Our wages are highest in the Baltics," said Bakler.

Starting April 1, nurses will be paid at least €900 after tax, and doctors at least €1,600 at the hospital. But wages are significantly higher for better-qualified specialists.

Data by Latvia's Health Ministry say in 2018, Latvian doctors earn at least €1,132 and nurses at least €996 before tax.

While Kohtla-Järve doesn't have any Latvian doctors yet, three Latvian doctors are, in fact, working at the Valga hospital on the border. 

For the time being, Estonia attracts mostly specialists from Russia and Ukraine, and Moldova. 

Latvia's healthcare funding is €1.014 billion this year, of which much was dedicated to raising the wages of the least-paid specialists.

Last year's €194 million funding increase was the largest health care budget increase in Latvia since the country regained independence in the early 1990s.

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