Abolishing gratuity must be the first step in improving the Hungarian healthcare system, recently appointed Minister of State for Healthcare Gábor Zombor said at a professional conference in Budapest on Thursday.

“If we want to have a clean (healthcare) system, we must change the current one based on gratuity and there are several proposals on how to do that”. Mr. Zombor said, adding that this would require determination as well as political and professional support, “which have so far been absent”. He said healthcare must be considered a strategically important sector of the economy and while there have been some improvements, the system remains in a human resources crisis.

Speaking at a conference on the future of healthcare, Mr. Zombor said one of the major questions was how to find additional funding for the system. There have already been some good solutions, he said, mentioning the introduction of the public health product tax (or “fat tax”). “The idea is worthy of continuation”, he said, adding that if additional funding can be secured, gratuity could also be eliminated. “This problem can be solved without resorting to penalties or strict policing”, he said. A further challenge is to balance supply and demand while maintaining full social security coverage.
Mr. Zombor also said that the existing tensions within the system are partly responsible for the exodus of medical personnel. He praised the initiatives of the Hungarian Residents’ Association regarding the gratuity system, stating that further steps should be considered. He also said that introducing the resident scholarship system was good and that he also supported a minimum wage system for specialists. He said that if professional performance is also rewarded with adequate pay, there is a good chance that doctors currently working abroad would return home. He said he hoped that tangible changes could be achieved within a year.

József Pálinkás, former President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said the problem was not that young scientists and doctors leave the country, but that they rarely return. He said Hungary should create attractive conditions for their return, adding that overall financial conditions were not good, but “not terrible either” and that a properly functioning economy was the prerequisite for improvements.

President of the Hungarian Residents’ Association Tamás Dénes said gratuity was the main obstacle to any reforms, adding that establishing a proper remuneration system cannot be delayed further. Katalin Kiss from public opinion poll company Synapse said a recent representative study of theirs showed that 70 percent of doctors left the country for better wages and their return would be dependent on higher salaries, a clear healthcare system structure and better working conditions.

(Ministry of Human Resources)