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Govʼt approves pay rise for doctors

The government has approved a proposal by the Chamber of Physicians that will give doctors a "massive" pay rise, while putting an end to the practice of accepting gratuities for healthcare services, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said, according to a report by state news wire MTI.

After returning from a two-day summit in Brussels, he said a coronavirus vaccine cannot be expected "realistically" before the middle of next year.

"That will put enormous pressure on hospitals in the coming six-eight months, requiring the work of doctors and nurses to go above and beyond to ensure every infected patient can be treated and given proper care," he said.

"The Chamber of Physicians has made it clear, and the government shares the view, that going above and beyond can hardly be achieved with the current pay scale," he added.

At a press conference on Saturday, the head of the Chamber of Physicians said Orbán had taken the political decision on the matter and the details of the wage rise would be discussed with the ministries in charge.

Gyula Kincses said the decision means that, in future, resident physicians will get starting salaries of HUF 700,000-800,000 a month, while doctors with advanced careers could make as much as HUF 2.4 million.

He said the measure could stop Hungarian doctors from going abroad to work for better pay, adding that the chamber will continue to work with the government on drafting reform measures.

Kincses noted that the pay rise is expected to be phased in gradually, with doctors getting 65-70% of the increase from January 1 and the rest by January of 2022-2023.

The deputy head of the chamber, Péter Álmos, said the body had used the pay scale for Austrian doctors as a benchmark and set their recommendation at 55% of those levels.

Hungarian media sources earlier said the chamberʼs recommendation paired a 100-120% wage increase with legal sanctions for parasolvency. 

Budget spending on doctorsʼ wages to double

In an interview broadcast on public radio on Sunday, Orbán said that there was a "big debate" within the government over whether the timing of the wage increase was right considering the importance of preserving jobs threatened by the economic fallout from the pandemic.

"If it werenʼt for the virus, Iʼd say thatʼs a logical argument...that the focus must be on preserving jobs, not raising wages. But the truth is thereʼs a crisis now and that requires a different way of thinking. I rather agreed with those who argued that now is the proper time, that the pandemic is an argument for, rather than an argument against, a large-scale wage agreement," the PM said.

Orbán said assigning a figure to the scale of the wage rise is difficult because of the complicated legal nature of the ways doctors are employed in Hungary. He added that the pay of all doctors would not be affected to the same degree, but that central budget expenditures on doctorsʼ wages would double. 

He also said the government would establish a uniform legal framework for the employment of healthcare professionals "so we can see the situation accurately".

Doctorsʼ pay to rise over three years

A bill submitted by the government to Parliament on Monday would set the monthly pay for doctors in practice for a period of up to two years at HUF 481,486 from the start of next year. At the top of the pay scale, doctors in practice for 41 years or more would make HUF 1,666,040 a month.

The bill would raise the pay scale to a range of HUF 619,053 to HUF 2,142,051 from January 1, 2022. The range would increase a third time, from January 1, 2023, to HUF 687,837 to HUF 2,380,057.

The bill would make accepting gratuities punishable by up to one year in prison. It would set a limit on the value of non-cash gifts from patients to doctors at 5% of the monthly minimum wage.

The threshold on the value of such gifts at present would be a little more than HUF 8,000.