Doctors cut hours over payment dispute

Specialty doctors are treating more patients than health service is paying them for, leading to a call from their union to cut back on hours

Patients needing the help of speciality doctors should expect longer waiting times for appointments after the doctors' union urged its members to cut back on their working hours.

In a letter to the 1,100 members of the union Forening af Praktiserende Speciallæger, the union expresses concern that the doctors will end up working for free if they continue to treat the same volume of patients.

“Members need to slow down,” the letter states. “This can be achieved, for example, by closing the clinic and taking some education, closing early, taking extra days off or something else similar.”

Speaking to Politiken newspaper, Mikkel Holmelund, the vice-chairman of the union and a doctor that specialises in throat, nose and ear illnesses, said that he is sorry that the situation will increase waiting time for patients.

“We have to sort the patients so that those who are best able to wait that will have to wait longer,” Holmelund said, adding that speciality doctors have no other choice.

“If we had speciality doctors on permanent contracts that were paid a salary, you would not expect them to work more hours than they were being paid for. But some people find it reasonable that practising speciality doctors have to treat more patients than they are paid to. It’s hypocritical.”

Speciality doctors are self-employed and cover their own costs for offices and staffing.

The problem lies in the collective bargaining agreement for speciality doctors made with the regional health bodies. The agreements outline the number of patients that the doctors can be paid to treat.

While the current agreement pays the doctors to treat 1.25 percent more patients than in 2010, figures gathered since October show that the doctors have actually treated 3.2 percent more patients. If the doctors keep on treating patients, they will effectively be working for free.

Not all speciality doctors agree that the union's advice is the correct way to proceed, however.

“It means that patients are prevented access to treatment that their yellow insurance cards [sygesikringskort] entitles them to,” eye doctor Nicolai Larsen told Politiken. “As eye doctors it means delaying treatment on eye diseases that threaten eyesight.”

Individuals wanting to avoid the public waiting list can pay to be treated privately, however, leading Larsen to accuse the move by the union as an attempt to introduce a payment system via the backdoor.

The association of patients, Patientforeningen, also criticised the move by the union.

“If people are ill and are not treated in time there could be serious consequences. It is so serious that some people may end up dying,” Patientforeningen spokesperson Erik Bach told Politiken, adding that he was still able to sympathise with the economic position that the doctors have been placed in.

“It’s like setting out on a long drive and only being given petrol to cover some of it. It’s unsustainable.”