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Two years on, landmark GHS leaves lasting legacy

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By Constantinos Ioannou

The General Healthcare System (GHS), hailed as one of the biggest reforms ever in the Republic of Cyprus, was introduced in May two years ago.

It is still early to fully assess the outcome of the deep reforms in the health sector over the past two years.

Still, there is no doubt the GHS meets, to a large extent, its basic goal to offer all beneficiaries equal and comprehensive access to quality health services.

Citizens have welcomed the GHS from day one despite the attacks against it, which still go on.

Those who had predicted GHS’s collapse or kept warning of an imminent disaster have been proven wrong because the system was embraced by society and has been strengthened, consolidated and on a path of continuous evolution.

In this continuous, one-way process, society’s force and market laws play a significant role.

The state’s role – if and when deemed necessary – will only be auxiliary and of a corrective character in a bid to further support the system that is an asset for all.

The Government proves daily that it practically supports the Health sector in which it invests the maximum.

For example, I would like to remind you that the Ministry of Health’s budget is close to €1 bln, constituting almost 10% of the state’s overall budget.

For two years now, the Republic’s citizens have the Personal Doctor of their choice, through whom they are referred to a Specialist also of their choice.

The large number of Specialist Doctors who have signed contracts with the Health Insurance Organization (HIO) consolidates the right to choose, one that covers the vast majority of medical specialities and almost all medical needs.

The integration of a large number of private hospitals is also a milestone for the development of the GHS.

And in combination with the large network of public hospitals, they enrich the options on offer for all beneficiaries.

Those who doubted to a small or large degree the importance of the GHS should go back and consider what the health sector was like two years ago.

With just a small contribution now and without the stress of financial costs that upset the family budget and cause uncertainty and insecurity, all beneficiaries, every family, have access to quality health services, medicines through the “neighbourhood pharmacy” institution, diagnostic and laboratory tests.

The numbers are a strong indication: over the past two years, a total of 892,134 GHS beneficiaries have joined a GP.

And 801,107 beneficiaries have visited their personal doctor, in addition to 631,000 beneficiaries who have visited specialists, 655,868 who received medication, 578,249 have undergone laboratory tests, and 76,873 have received in-patient medical care services.

I recognize that the numbers also indicate an abuse of the system and anticipated distortion, recorded in all countries where a new Health System had been introduced.

The HIO took various actions, and the problem has been alleviated to a great extent, but, admittedly, it is still there.

However, I would like to remind you that abuses were recorded before the implementation of the GHS as well when citizens were over-charged and over-indebted, with the state suffering serious losses from undeclared income, wasted money and several other ‘pathogens’.

The second anniversary of GHS implementation finds our country trying to step out of the coronavirus health crisis.

It would be an omission not to underline the decisive contribution of the GHS in the effective management of the pandemic.

I am sure things would have been a lot more difficult without the GHS database in our hands after the obligatory registration of all medical procedures and the valuable GP institution.

It became easier to deal with suspected and/or positive Covid-19 cases by defining procedures and protocols.

At the same time, electronic prescriptions to chronic patients who did not have to visit a medical centre physically were concrete actions that decongested the Health System.

They minimized the risk of the pandemic’s spread.

Equally important is the contribution of GPs who now vaccinate beneficiaries.

Two years on, we are confident enough over the path taken. The future of the GHS appears to be optimistic.

We feel proud that despite the difficulties and extremely unfavourable conditions, we have implemented the health sector’s biggest reform.

We still have to add other specialities and services and take corrective actions where necessary towards the contribution of upgrading the health services.

The GHS is an inspirational project for Cyprus to be inherited by our children and future generations.

Constantinos Ioannou is the Minister of Health, Republic of Cyprus