Doctors have gone on strike and what about patients?


Doctors decisively demanded considerable pay rises. We all know that wages in Poland are poor. When we compare our wages with the wages of those who have gone to work, for example in Great Britain we must admit that their pay is much higher and people are immediately better off there. The problem of poor wages in Poland does not only concern doctors. For example teachers are also poorly paid. Generally speaking, it is true that an average Pole find s it hard to make both ends meet. Low pay also results from high labour costs. Even if somebody earns 2,000 zlotys gross, he must assign much of that sum for taxes, social insurance (ZUS) and other obligatory services. Thus the actual pay is about 1,400 zlotys. The situation of pensioners is even worse. They must also count every penny.
The doctors' strike has appeared in this complicated situation. The government claims that they cannot afford meeting the medics' demands. The ministers explain logically that the budget has been closed, expenses have been planned. Where from are they to take those huge sums for doctors?
I am wondering what those dealing with ethics, including medical ethics, think about the strike. Recently my friends have told me that they are afraid about their daughter who is about to give birth to her child. Because of the strike her doctor cannot enter the hospital. We hear that some patients cannot have their injections prescribed. Fortunately, the system of health protection helps in such dramatic situations. But actually the words 'doctors do not leave their patients' in hospitals mean little interest in their patients' health. What can the poor - the richer can afford going to private clinics - do when doctors are trying to force the government to meet their demands, how can the poor deal with the doctors' strike, with doctors whom they entrusted their health with? Do the doctors take this into account? Can they risk people's health, and perhaps lives, when they demand higher salaries?
Most of all, one must protect people, especially the poor, the helpless, those who cannot manage with daily matters.
But the doctors make demands, which - in many people's opinions - cannot be fulfilled. Does someone who has been called to save life and health behave like that? Naturally, one cannot generalise about the situation. I do not blame all doctors. But we know that medics are fairly well off and their standard of living is above the average. And the government reminds us that doctors' salaries have already been raised. I am surprised by the fact that doctors do not want to collaborate with nurses whose pay is also poor. Why cannot they act together? I do not mean striking together but coming up with some common proposal. Nobody denies that medical services should be paid more.
It seems that this is the direction of the government's activities. But it will be hard to demand that the government solves 50 years of the communist neglect immediately. We cannot have the Western standard of living at once. These things need time. Perhaps the SLD, which has continued the leftist ideas, and today is ready to criticise the government, should remember what the communists did to Polish society. When the government of Jerzy Buzek introduced a system of health-insurance fund and some health service reform programme seemed to start working, the next government of Leszek Miller cancelled it immediately. And we must start again. If the health-insurance fund had not been closed the situation would have been much better.
Therefore, one must appeal to the striking doctors, appeal to their moral awareness so that they will think that they cannot risk patients' health or even their lives. Can doctors go on strike? Can they neglect their duties to have higher salaries? These are not political questions although such strikes seem to be political. I ask these difficult questions because my role is to help people follow Christian morality. I direct my question to all striking doctors. This strike is a threat to patients' health and lives. The health of some people could have got worse and some might have even died because of the lack of medical care.

This text deals with the phenomenon of strike and not with concrete people. The matter is not simple at all. I am aware of the fact that many doctors have not joined the strike although they have to struggle with the 'sick' health service every day and are poorly paid for their work.

"Niedziela" 24/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: