Health system rocked by conflict-of-interest claims

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Cyprus’ General Healthcare System is in turmoil after the head of the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO), Thomas Antoniou, tendered his resignation after personal attacks against him and the GHS.

Antoniou’s resignation comes a week after the HIO was shaken by the appointment and almost immediate termination of Dr Petros Agathangelou, president of the Cyprus Medical Association (PIS), as a board member.

Agathangelou had only been appointed two weeks earlier, but the government was prompted to terminate his services following the reaction of opposition parties and patient organisations pointing to a conflict of interest.

Critics argued that Agathangelou represents a group of professionals, namely private doctors, who have a vested interest in the GHS as contractors.

The public uproar led to the revocation of the doctor’s appointment, with the spotlight turning to a possible conflict of interest of the chair and the other 12 members.

Following Agathangelou’s resignation, news broke that Antoniou and other HIO board members would be investigated for potential conflicts of interest.

In an open letter, Antoniou argued his resignation was independent of that investigation as he had decided to exit before that procedure was published.

Antoniou claimed that institutional and quasi-institutional forces were attempting to undermine the health system, with their attacks on it often turning into attacks on him and his family.

“It was clear to me from the beginning that due to the significance of the task entrusted to me and its scope, there would be major personal sacrifices and hard work.”

He added that he took the role without pay or compensation.

Antoniou came under investigation following allegations that his wife, a physiotherapist contracted with the GHS, stood to gain from his presence on the board.

Antoniou said that his wife’s annual earnings were €26,500.

On Thursday, Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides ruled that Antoniou had a conflict of interest as he stood to gain from his wife’s earnings through the GHS.

President Nicos Anastasiades said he was disappointed by the news that Antoniou intended to resign from his post.

Government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos extended the government’s regret over developments.

“Stability in the board of directors had helped to address problems that arose during the early stages of the implementation of the historic reform of the island’s health system”.