AKH docs fear job loss

Fewer surgeries will be carried out at Austria’s biggest clinic if the government does not invest more, doctors have warned.

The Federal Chamber of Doctors and the works council of Vienna’s General Hospital (AKH) said yesterday (Mon) fewer nurses would be on night duty in the coming months due to the financial situation. They warned fewer surgeries could be carried out soon because of the federal coalition’s unwillingness to come up for soaring costs. The clinic needs an additional nine million Euros this year and twice as much in 2012, according to the chamber.

Vienna Medical University (MedUni) director Wolfgang Schütz said already in August that public budget freezes may negatively affect patient services at the country’s largest clinic. He demanded additional payments from the Austrian government of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) of 100 million Euros between 2013 and 2015 to keep the quality of treatment, surgeries and care up.

The AKH receives over 100 million Euros from the city of Vienna a year. It stopped hiring new staff to replace retiring nurses, carers and doctors some months ago. Schütz explained that public subsidies were worse year after year due to increasing costs and inflation. The MedUni is part of the AKH. The clinic is situated in Vienna-Alsergrund. The AKH uses university funds to pay around one in three of AKH’s 9,000 employees, according to Schütz.

“The collapse of this huge institution can be predicted if no U-turn is made on the budgetary path the government chose to take,” Doctors’ Chamber President Walter Dorner announced yesterday. He warned that the MedUni would have no other option but to make cuts. He appealed to Science Minister Karlheinz Töchterle to increase the funds for Austria’s universities. Töchterle is not a member of a political party. He was nominated by the ÖVP to succeed Beatrix Karl as science minister in April.

Dorner explained that an increase of investments into higher education and research would also help the MedUni which employs AKH’s doctors. Carers, nurses, cleaners and janitors are paid by the city of Vienna which is governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and the Green Party.

Around 180 of the currently employed 1,500 doctors could lose their jobs, according to chamber officials. A spokesman for the federal science ministry stressed that the financial stability of the MedUni was “secure” until the end of next year. He underlined that Töchterle was holding “positive” talks with ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter about how much the state would spend on universities and colleges from 2013. AKH doctors were not impressed by the statement. They announced plans to hold a general summit to discuss future measures next week – and refused to rule out taking to the streets.

A MedUni employee representative explained today that AKH’s anaesthesia and surgery ward would certainly be affected by a budget freeze. He added that the clinic’s gynaecology and dermatology departments may feel the impact too. “We expect a 30 per cent decline of surgery capacity,” he warned.

Reports have it that patients could be confronted with longer waiting periods at AKH’s emergency ward. A private association set up by works council members to ensure the hospital’s quality standards already received donations from worried patients and residents of Vienna, according to the Kurier. Opposition members appealed to the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition to bolster Austria’s universities with one billion Euros of additional subsidies next year. Töchterle stressed he had nothing against higher investments, but emphasised that he was still in favour of a comeback of tuition fees. Universities stopped charging students three years ago. All parties represented in the parliament expect the ÖVP backed the proposal to abolish the fees.

Töchterle recently said about the situation at Austria’s universities: “Structural problems cannot be solved only by spending higher amounts.” He said they should be allowed to order students to pay fees. He presented a legal expert’s report which allegedly showed that the current law was not keeping the institutions from doing so. The SPÖ, which opposes a reintroduction of tuition fees, assigned other legal experts to interpret the constitution – who delivered contrary claims.

The AKH is one of 12 public clinics in Austrian capital Vienna. The city’s SPÖ-Greens government said last March it intended to reduce the number to seven by 2030. SPÖ Vienna Councillor Sonja Wehsely rubbished concerns that such a reform meant a worsening of the quality of services offered to patients at the medical institutions. She claimed jobs were not at risk because of the upcoming restructuring process.