The government has accepted the Hungarian Medical Chamber’s (MOK) proposal for an unprecedented wage increase for doctors, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a radio interview on Sunday.
Orbán said that the MOK has been “bombarding” the government for months with its proposals and even the cabinet members were divided on the issue of doctors’ wages, but they eventually decided that at a moment when all healthcare workers were under extreme strain due to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, it was the right time to act.
“This is the moment when we need to make a breakthrough in doctors’ wages and together we can manage it again,” Orbán said. While warning that the wage increases will not be uniform across the board, he added that “one can speak of a doubling”, mentioning that, for example, resident doctors’ wages will rise to 600,000 forints (€1,672) from the current 300,000 forints.
He also said that in response to the MOK proposal, the government will phase out the gratuity system endemic in Hungarian healthcare.
The gratuity system in Hungary — which exists despite the fact that all wage earners pay a healthcare contribution, making treatments theoretically free for everyone — is an inheritance of the communist era. According to one healthcare insurance company, current prices range from 10,000 forints for an endoscopy to 150,000 forints for a birth or major surgical intervention.
While doctors accepting gifts or money after a procedure is not illegal in Hungary, asking it in advance is.
Successive governments have been intermittently attempting to tackle the gratuity system since the regime change in 1990, without notable success. One recent study indicated that the system survives because both doctors and patients believe that medical professionals are underpaid.
Orbán also spoke about the government’s measures to regroup medical personnel to where they are most needed, saying the healthcare system can “keep pace” with the rising infection numbers. He said mathematical models predict that the peak demand could be 200,000 infected at the same time, of whom 16,000 would need hospital treatment and 1,000 of those could end up on respirators, but the government was making its plans based on double that number.
According to the latest available data, there are 22,283 active cases in Hungary, with 19,923 persons in mandatory home quarantine and the number of casualties has reached 822. That translates to 85 deaths per one million population, compared with 90 in western neighbor Austria, 86 in Serbia to the south and 261 in Romania to the east.
Title image: Péter Zoltán Álmos (L) and 0yula Kincses (C), leaders of the Hungarian Medical Chamber meet Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (R) on October 3 in Budapest. (MTI/Vivien Cher Benko)