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Wednesday 19.06.2019 | Name days: Nils, Viktors
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Planned hospital reorganisation in Lithuanian regions irks both mayors and patients

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

If the plan of the Lithuanian Ministry of Health to overhaul treatment services in the provinces does not hit a snag, the rural hospitals will be soon providing only essential care and nursing, the focus will be on out-patient care and treatment will be available only in larger county hospitals.

Focusing on treatment in them and leaving less services in the districts – this is the gist of an experiment pushed forward by Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga in the Alytus region in southern Lithuania.

«Some hospitals already have hospital care. Now we are looking at how to deal with this situation further. The regions are losing part of their population, the rest of the population is older, thence these services need to be somewhat different,» Veryga said.

The minister believes that optimising the network of medical institutions in the country will not push small hospitals out of business.

However, many Lithuanian mayors and heads of hospitals disagree and claim the planned reform will bring about only harm, not help to the patient.

«Currently, about 80 per cent of the population of the district receives urgent necessary assistance in the hospital admissions section. It would be inconvenience for people because, with the reform completed, they would be transported several kilometre to the hospitals,» says Algirdas Miklyčius, director of Varėnos Hospital.

According to him, about 3,000 to 4,000 patients are treated annually in the Lazdijai and Varėna districts and about one thousand surgical operations are performed in them annually.

Importantly, some of the municipalities have invested in medical equipment, so that the hospitals can tend to the patient‘s medical needs.

Some of the mayors also note that although the government is promising to strengthen the regions through encouraging and financially supporting young families to resettle to the workforce shortage-ridden regions, in reality, the government is driving a wedge between the less and more abundantly populated regions.

«We have invested heavily through various programs, we have good hardware, infrastructure, doctors. I cannot imagine a hospital if there is no resuscitation. We are still talking about strengthening the regions, we are just talking, and in fact we all centralise it,» says Aras Margelis, mayor of Lazdijai in southern Lithuania.

Agreeing, mayor of Varėna, Algis Kasšetas, called on the minister to help the provinces, not make harm to them.

«We optimised the network, the number of beds, the staff and work on the plus. My request to the minister is this: do not disturb, please, but help. The policy of paying for services could be more rational and also support areas where the secondary level of health care is relevant. This will solve the problems,» he reasoned.

If the hospital reorganisation plan is green-lit, hospitals in the Lazdijai, Druskininkai and Varėna municipalities would be added as divisions to the Alytus County Vincas Kudirka Hospital, a major medical hub in southern Lithuania.

«If they agree to provide different medical services in each of the municipalities, the quality of medical services would improve and the medics‘ salaries would go higher,» Veryga in his plan.

However, Margelis, the Lazdijai mayor, bristles against the minister‘s conclusions.

«It does not make sense to incorporate Lazdijai hospital in the Alytus County Hospital due to a single reason: our hospital works profitably, the people are happy with the services and the spectrum of services is optimal. The attaching would mean death penalty to us,» said Margelis.

According to Vaidotas Grigas, director of hospital in Molėtai, a town 120 kilometres east of Vilnius, the implementation of the pilot project throughout the country would trigger many social issues in Molėtai.

«We do not have transportation to Utena, the county centre. Most of the buses run twice a week to Molėtai and even rarer to the county centre,» Grigas noted. «It is hard for our municipality inhabitants to get admitted in higher-level hospitals due to the lack of beds in them. I just don’t see how the county medical facilities will cope with an increase in patient numbers.»

At stake might be more than just the will to optimise the hospital network in the country.

The minister does not conceal that that amendments were drawn up and are pursued in order to allow the ministry to become co-founder of the hospitals.

«Since municipalities are the only founder of municipalities, we are in such a situation that the ministry does not have any tools to form the network. Our desire is to become one of the founders and participate in the process,» the minister defended his hospital reform plan.

Meanwhile, Lina Bušinskaitė – Šriubėnė, the spokeswoman of the Health ministry, emphasises that the ongoing discussion will not necessarily lead to the decisions.

«Besides, if the reorganisation takes place, the good examples of medical facility mergers are worth being taken into consideration,» she told BNN.

According to her, the ministry will be consulting the municipalities and local hospitals throughout the process.

«The ministry aims to draw up a plan this year on the optimisation of medical treatment institutions. Our objective is to see them well functioning and providing quality services. One has to agree that changes are necessary and they have to come – sooner or later,» she concluded.

The Ministry has said it will introduce the first steps for the reorganisation of medical institutions at the end of May and has assured that unilateral decisions will not be taken.

Meanwhile, the patients out there complain not only of long queues to see the doctor, but also for the dragged-out waiting lines for basic laboratory tests. Besides, many patients observe deteriorating medical care – both in-patient and out-patient medical facilities.

«When I was in local hospital with my child, a nurse brought him wrong pills. Thank God, I was watchful and refused to administer them to him,» a young mother from a provincial Lithuanian town is quoted as saying by a Lithuanian news outlet.


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