Health minister accused of jumping line for operation

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Latvia's Health Minister, Guntis Belevics, may have jumped waiting lists in order to get a quick operation at a Riga hospital, the Latvijas Avize newspaper alleged Wednesday. 

If confirmed the allegation would likely make Belevics' position untenable, particularly given his previous assertions that reducing waiting times for operations were among his priorities.

However, the source of the newspaper's story is anonymous, it admitted, saying that at the end of May it was sent an anonymous e-mail from an individual claiming to be a doctor at Austrumu Hospital in Riga.

The anonymous source said Belevics had attended the hospital a few days previously for minor, non-essential surgery for a skin condition that could have been treated at a private clinic.

"No one performs surgery of this kind on non-paying patients. Even patients with malignant skin growths have to wait in line at our oncology hospital. The operating theaters were cleared of patients to operate on Belevics. ‘Unreliable’ staff members were sent away as well,” the anonymous source claimed.

For more than a week, the Health Ministry has failed to reply to the newspaper’s questions attempting to verify the story, Latvijas Avize said, prompting it to go to press without an official response.

However, in an unorthodox attempt to get confirmation a journalist posing as a Health Ministry official visited the hospital and asked if Belevics had left documents behind during his stay. She was told he had only had his cellphone with him.

The journalist did eventually run the minister to ground at the cabinet office, in a video posted to YouTube.

With a bandaged arm, he pulled two receipts from his wallet from a private clinic. Pressed on whether he had undergone surgery elsewhere he retreated to the safety of a government meeting room.

The news is unlikely to endear the minister to health workers who are already threatening industrial action over lack of funds and poor pay and conditions within the health service.


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