WARSAW — Thousands of health care workers are expected to take to the streets of Warsaw Saturday afternoon, demanding more funding for the beleaguered sector and higher pay for doctors, nurses, paramedics and administrative staff.
The march comes as Poland’s health care sector is threatened by a fourth wave of coronavirus infections. The number of new cases, exceeding 500 a day, is growing by 40 percent on a weekly basis. It might top 10,000 cases a day in only a few weeks, mainly among the many Poles who remain non-vaccinated, experts warn.
Any fresh pandemic crisis, like the surges before it, will be tackled by overworked and underpaid staffers, the health care unions say. Poland has the fewest doctors per capita in the entire EU after Cyprus — with just 2.4 doctors per 1,000 people, well below the EU’s average of 3.7, according to 2017 data from the World Bank. The country also lacks nurses.
The protestors’ specific ask is to change the official calculation that sets minimum pay across the health care system, both for medical and non-medical jobs. They’re also seeking more money overall for health care; more administrative jobs to assist doctors; an upgrading of medics’ status to public employees; and protections for medics against verbal and physical abuse.
Unions have been locked in talks with the government over these demands, but the two sides remain stuck. After labor leaders met with Health Minister Adam Niedzielski on Thursday, the ministry dismissed their demands as “too general to discuss” and asked for more details.
The unions responded by insisting their position has been clear.
“We are used to cooperation relying on trust. [Detailed] demands have been known for a long time,” the unions tweeted, showing their list of asks. “This isn’t just about the money but about health and safety of patients.”
The government has been skittish on the budget question, claiming that the demand to raise pay alone would cost 100 billion złoty (€22 billion) — which amounts to the nation’s entire health care budget. It has counter-offered a hike in health care funding from the current 5.3 percent of GDP to 7 percent of GDP in 2027.
The government insists it’s pushing for changes, but “in few years’ time, not in a year or two,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Friday — seen as a hint that the demands won’t be met.
Morawiecki made his comments only hours after he skipped a scheduled meeting with union leaders, leading to more outrage on their side.
The Saturday protest will run through the afternoon. Participants will then set up a so-called “White Town” of tents where debates, news conferences, as well as free diagnostics for people will take place.
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