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06. 12. 11. - 16:10

Mayor calls for AKH budget reform as docs consider strike

Michael Häupl, the mayor of Vienna, has suggested that the city and the state should share the management and maintenance costs for the country’s largest clinic.

The Social Democrat (SPÖ) announced today (Tues) he was in favour of a splitting of the costs at 50 per cent. The city of Vienna pays around two thirds of the General Hospital’s (AKH) costs at the moment. The rest is contributed by the Medical University of Vienna (MedUni). The institution trains and pays the AKH’s doctors. It is funded by the education ministry currently headed by Karlheinz Töchterle, a member of the People’s Party’s (ÖVP) cabinet of ministers. Vienna city hall is in charge of assigning and paying nurses, carers, technicians and cleaners.

Häupl called on everyone involved to check the potential for savings but expressed concerns that there were "not terribly many" such opportunities. The influential Social Democrat, who became mayor of the Austrian capital in 1994, appealed to AKH works council leaders and Töchterle to try everything they could to find an agreement.

Häupl warned that the conflict must not negatively affect patients in any way. The mayor said the education ministry should ensure sufficient funding of the scientific department of the AKH to ensure smooth procedures at Europe’s clinic.

Meanwhile, AKH doctors’ council head Thomas Szekeres warned that medics working at the hospital – which is situated in Alsergrund district – could start a strike if talks remained fruitless until the middle of next month. Szekeres explained today that a strike was the "last resort" and expressed hopes that a solution could be found.

The MedUni caused a stir two weeks ago by announcing that there would be just 145 doctors on night and weekend duty at the AKH from February instead of the current 172 due to the federal SPÖ-ÖVP coalition’s unwillingness to increase its investments. The MedUni said it needed an extra nine million Euros in the short term and 30 million Euros overall to keep the full amount of services up. Around 1,800 medics are currently employed at the AKH. Their number may decline in 2012 as the MedUni plans to abstain from replacing retiring doctors.

Doctors, nurses, patients and people worried about a possible decline of quality standards at the AKH gathered at the clinic’s main hall last week to speak out against a budget freeze. Theatre legend Otto Schenk also turned up at the meeting. He said politicians who considered spending less on the health sector should opt for brain transplantations.

Ex-Green Party chairwoman Freda Meissner-Blau said reducing the number of doctors on night duty would be a "reckless" decision. She appealed to the federal government to meet the MedUni’s calls for more financial support. Meissner-Blau also said she saw chances of turning the clinic into a more efficient business by reorganising its management structure. The former politician suggested considering a reform of the current organisation under which both the city and the state have certain responsibilities.

The question whether the MedUni’s budget will be increased and a strike of AKH medics avoided as a consequence also depend on the government’s budgetary path for the coming years. Töchterle said he wanted to convince ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter that the country’s universities were in need of higher funding. However, his attempts to increase their budgets could be thwarted by the bullish mood of SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann and ÖVP Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger to introduce a debt brake.

The government leaders wanted to create a constitutional debt limit and get the green light in parliament tomorrow. Their plan is at risk since none of the parliament’s three opposition parties – the Freedom Party (FPÖ), the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and the Green Party – want to support the debt limit bill.

Now the coalition plans to pass the bill as a regular law since it is not strong enough in seats for a two-third majority which is needed for constitutional laws. The debt limit should assure credit rating agencies that Austria is on track to restore its budget. The country still has the best rating (AAA) – but the pressure is up due to soaring debts and a worryingly high budget deficit.

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