Alt. Health Minister Polakis: Novartis scandal on a par with that involving Siemens

The Novartis scandal, which he described as comparable to the Siemens’ kickbacks scandal, and the prospects for improving Greece’s ailing state health system were the topics that Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis mainly addressed in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) released on Sunday.

Polakis said that Greeks continued to have faith in the national health system in spite of the problems in health care. Though far from perfect, he said this now presented the image of a system “that is beginning to recover after many years of understaffing, underfunding and deliberate destruction.”

“Clearly we are not satisfied overall but we are satisfied that we have balanced a system that was in danger of collapse,” he added, noting that the horizontal cuts imposed in the years prior to SYRIZA’s arrival had “not touched one hair” of a system that generated overpricing, graft and corruption.

“The difference in spending between what New Democracy had signed and what we negotiated is close to one billion euros more money for state hospitals. If you do not make a political choice to give money to a system that is collapsing than you’re not doing anything,” Polakis added.

On the scandal surrounding the pharmaceutical firm Novartis, Polakis said that this involved more than 4.0 billion euros of illegal money. He noted that “penal, political and administrative” responsibilities would be uncovered in the case concerning how the administrative mechanism, doctors and the political leadership had handled a specific portion of pharmaceutical spending and how the company had distributed drugs “while violating protocols and good practice”.

The minister blamed the slow procedures of the Supreme Council for Staff Selection (ASEP) for delays in hiring the additional staff announced, noting that the “ASEP system was set up in order to stall and delay”. He pointed out, however, that 3,830 people had been hired since October 2015 when the first recruitment drive was announced, while another 3,100 were in the process of being hired and thousands more hirings were planned in the months ahead.

Lastly, the minister appeared confident that Greece was ready to face the peak of the flu season, noting that there were now 554 functioning ICU beds, compared with 438 last year, with another 100 ICU beds available in the private sector. The Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP) was now expected to advertise for additional positions that would allow an addition 40-45 beds in ICUs to open, he added.