Fewer AKH docs on night duty from next year

The number of doctors on night duty at Austria’s largest clinics is set to shrink, it has emerged.

The works council of Vienna’s General Hospital (AKH) announced yesterday (Mon) that 145 doctors would be at work at night and at weekends from February 2012, down from 172 at the moment. The doctors’ representation explained it had to save money. The measure poses a savings potential of six million Euros, according to the organisation.

The Medical University of Vienna (MedUni) – which employs and pays the AKH’s doctors – stopped hiring new staff to replace retiring doctors last month. The plan is to employ 180 fewer doctors next year. Around 1,800 doctors are currently working at the AKH which is situated in Vienna-Alsergrund.

The clinic is in need of additional short-term investments of nine million Euros and 30 million Euros in the medium run, according to the works council of its scientific staff. Doctors have appealed to federal People’s Party (ÖVP) Science Minister Karlheinz Töchterle to increase the budget of Austria’s universities. The minister said he would hold talks with ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter about the issue, but also appealed to the city of Vienna to invest more.

The Viennese government monitors the general management of the AKH. The federal capital covers costs spent on maintenance and cleaning but also pays nurses’ salaries while the Republic of Austria is in charge of doctors’ wages via the state-funded MedUni. Viennese Social Democratic (SPÖ) Health Councillor Sonja Wehsely has ruled out an increase of the city’s investments. She said the federal government coalition of Social Democrats and the ÖVP had to take action to avoid a decrease of quality of services provided by doctors at the hospital.

Reports have it that especially emergency and accident services of various AKH departments could be affected by the spending reduction. Warnings that waiting periods would increase have already been issued. AKH doctors will hold another extraordinary summit at the clinic today to make aware of the difficult financial situation. Well-known former patients like theatre legend Otto Schenk and ex-Green Party boss Freda Meissner-Blau attended the gathering to speak out against cutbacks of the clinic’s budget.

The administration of the AKH could be reorganised as part of the federal government’s current plans to restructure public administration and bureaucracy. The SPÖ-ÖVP administration feels the pressure of the global markets and European Commission (EC) financial issues watchdogs to lower the soaring state debt and Austria’s budget deficit in the coming years. The coalition has so far expressed not much more than rather vague ideas of how it could get the budget under control. SPÖ and ÖVP are at odds about which public sectors should be affected the most by the upcoming austerity measures.

There are 12 public hospitals in Vienna. Wehsely announced in March the city coalition of SPÖ and Greens planned to reduce the number to seven by 2030. The councillor promised at that time that jobs were not at risk because of the extensive restructuring proceedings.

Meanwhile, former SPÖ Chancellor Franz Vranitzky has hit out at the government over its plans to set up a debt limit. The ex-SPÖ boss said about the coalition’s willingness to add such a tool to the federal constitution: “(This is) abstruse. What is this supposed to mean? I, the government, appeal to you, the parliament, to order a debt limit because I cannot handle it on my own?”

Harald Vilimsky of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) also underlined that no one kept the government from reducing investments without a constitutional debt brake in effect. His party is not expected to support the upcoming draft bill on the issue. FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache made clear that the government would have to pull out from providing credits and guarantees to Greece and other struggling Eurozone members via the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to get his faction’s green light. The SPÖ and ÖVP said they would certainly not stop showing solidarity with other EU states but also said it was of great importance that the receivers of loans fulfilled budget rules established by the providers.