The public healthcare system in Cyprus is in crisis because the state doesn’t spend enough to fund, administer and manage it effectively. What follows is a personal story.
A Scene in Nicosia General Hospital – 8.12.16
My mother is very sick with cancer. She has a rare type of skin cancer, and after radiation and chemotherapy treatments, the only option left is surgery. Even though it’s desperately needed, Cyprus doesn’t have a dedicated oncology hospital, so we’re waiting for the Health Ministry to send her abroad for the urgently-required surgery to save her life. As part of the approval procedure, she has to be seen by a doctor in the Nicosia General Hospital.
Our appointment with the medical consultant at the Nicosia General Hospital is at 10am, so we get there 40 minutes earlier to register my mother. Parking takes at least 10 minutes because even the large parking lot is jammed with cars. We get there early because we have to get a wheelchair at the hospital as my mother has difficulty walking because of the pain. While I park the car, frantic with worry but trying to stay calm, my sister takes my mother to reception and starts the process of retrieving her medical file. There are queues in front of the five receptionists, so she settles in to wait while my mother awkwardly sits on one of the hard plastic chairs. I run off to find a wheelchair.
I reach the ground floor nurse’s station after walking down a crowded corridor and waiting area. The nurse is busy changing bandages and people wait anxiously by her open door. I join them, feeling stressed because the appointment is soon and we can’t miss it. The nurse interrupts her work to respond to the shouted questions. Father’s heart surgery; doctor’s appointment; it feels like forever until my turn to blurt out my request. As I wait, I notice the nurse’s patient left his flip flop on the floor, it’s sticking out from underneath the drab green curtain doing what little it can to protect his privacy from the fifty people in the hallway.
“I need a wheelchair, please, my mother can’t walk and we have to go to the second floor,” I tell the nurse in Greek.
“There aren’t any, go to the first floor,” she replies, turning back to her patient.
I calculate the time we have left, 10 minutes, and walk swiftly back to mum. I ask if she can walk. She agrees meekly, the morphine making her glassy-eyed. Only morphine can reduce the pain of this cancer. We start inching down the corridor, passing my sister who looks at us with despairing eyes as she waits in the middle of the shouting queue. Mum stops to rest, I run ahead to find the way to the Core B lifts. My throat tightens as I see another long corridor ahead. We inch down the wide walkway, my mother’s unsteady on her feet but bravely keeps moving. A nurse passes us, I ask for a wheelchair, she tells me to go to the first floor. We keep walking slowly, slowly, slowly, time seems to envelop us in a comforting forcefield.
Chatting quietly to encourage her, we finally reach the lifts and ride up to the second floor. The journey up is smooth but then there’s a bit more walking and finally a sympathetic assistant outside the doctor’s office. We walked by family members clustered outside the operating rooms, one man listened carefully at the door, the others turned in towards each other for comfort. Mum sits awkwardly again on another waiting room chair to wait until the doctor is ready. I run off to find a wheelchair from the first floor for the return journey. They are mobbed on that floor as well and don’t have any wheelchairs either. I run back fast in case the doctor is ready and needs us to explain the history of the cancer treatments. My sister is still waiting for the file 45 minutes later. She gets lost and calls me sounding upset, we talk by mobile until she finds us.
It occurred to me that at no time did we see a manager or anyone who appears to be in charge, or anyone with a spare five seconds; the place is one giant emergency room. The doctor tells us it’s because the hospital is built for 500 patients not the 4000 who are trying to get treatments. The staff there are heroes, but can only do so much, and the patients are suffering the most because of the lack of resources. After the examination and approval for the Health Ministry to have the operation, the doctor calls and arranges a wheelchair for the return journey.
It’s a good thing too, my mother is in too much pain to walk by this time.
National healthcare plan is delayed
The best gift for the Cypriot people is health. There are no more excuses. The national healthcare plan must be passed by the House of Representatives, where it is being haggled over like it’s a piece of fruit in a market instead of a necessary and reasonable step to ensure everyone’s health. Our story is just one of the hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are relying on the state to use their taxes responsibly.
Negligence is failing to take action, failing to care, and failing to do the right thing. There are laws against it, and it’s unacceptable for the public to be treated as if their medical needs don’t count, while the state takes their taxes.
The plan is there, it has been approved by the Cabinet of Ministers and was extensively consulted upon by the EU and IMF, but is being held up by the Finance Ministry which wants to crunch more numbers. Meanwhile, people are suffering, they are in pain, and their Christmas and New Year’s Day will be just another day spent feeling that nobody cares about their agony and fear.
Can the Finance Ministry and House of Representatives do the right thing by the Cypriot people? This writer hopes so, for the greater good, for her mother, all cancer patients, and for simple human decency.