State Healthcare in Need of More Than a Band-aid


Private healthcare is a relatively new idea in Hungary. Indeed, for fairly obvious reasons, it is a relatively new idea across much of Central and Eastern Europe; certainly all the former Warsaw Pact countries. But it an idea that’s time has come.  

Business is booming, as is made clear in our Healthcare Special Report. The reason for that is three-fold. Firstly, Hungarians have got used to the concept. Secondly, they have more money in their pockets, enough to consider paying for such services. Not all of them by any means, but growing numbers of them. If those are draws, third reason is a push, and arguably the biggest driver of all: the state of the national health service.

The news on the state healthcare front is the polar opposite of what is going on with private medicine. Staff are underpaid, and have been for years. State institutions face competition both from the private sector and from abroad. And, sometimes, from completely unrelated areas: it is not unknown for nurses, in particular, to give up the profession altogether and go and find better paying positions in some other field of work. It was revealed this week that almost 30% of specialist nursing spots are unfilled. This creates a vicious circle: already underpaid staff are now also overworked, and thus the likelihood of leaving the profession grows.

On top of all that, the infrastructure is often far from ideal. If you have ever spent time in the accident and emergency area of a Hungarian hospital you will have been struck by how shabby most of them look. But why would it be a surprise the paintwork is peeling when there is neither toilet paper not soap in the restrooms? As the owner of one international private clinic said to me: “You see this all over. Emerging countries will spend a lot on infrastructure, on roads and rail and bridges, but healthcare is always among the last to see any investment.”

The government is trying to do something. It has grand sounding plans for so-called super hospitals in Budapest. It has said it will increase wages, as it already has done for the police and the army. Most recently it has vowed to separate private and public healthcare, so they are no longer found in the same buildings. I am not sure what good this will serve, although it should put an end to the slightly disconcerting sight of going up the stairs of a public hospital and knowing you have reached the floor where the private patients are treated before you see any signage because the walls are freshly painted.

There are, of course, exceptions. But they are few. Hungarian state healthcare’s greatest resource is its staff. And with private clinics warning that they, too, are just beginning to feel the effects of the labor crisis, keeping hold of such treasures may prove even more problematic.

Robin Marshall



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