WARSAW (Reuters) – Thousands of Poland’s healthcare workers marched through the streets of Warsaw on Saturday, demanding better pay and conditions as the country braces for a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many medical staff say coronavirus has laid bare failings in the country’s health system and that careers in the sector are not attractive due to low wages and high levels of stress.
“We want decent jobs and wages … I work now for about 500 hours a month, not for money, but because there is no one to work,” said 41-year-old paramedic Wojciech Zdanowski.
Brandishing banners with slogans such as “Together for the good of patients” and “Sick country”, nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and ambulance staff, many in uniform, gathered near the Supreme Court before marching through the centre of the capital.
Their demands include higher wages, hiring more administrative and support staff and steps to protect against physical and verbal aggression.
Poland’s Health Minister Adam Niedzielski has dismissed the demands as too costly and unrealistic, involving an increase of around 105 billion zlotys ($27.31 billion) that would push health spending to over 10% of gross domestic product (GDP).
“Let’s be serious, if at this moment we have a budget for health that is 120 or 130 billion zlotys and there is a demand to increase that by 100 billion… it goes completely beyond the bounds of good sense and reason,” Niedzielski told private broadcaster Radio Zet on Friday.
In January 2020 a doctor with a specialisation earned on average almost 14,000 zlotys a month before tax, while nurses earned between 5,700 and 6,600 zlotys, according to health ministry data cited by daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
Poland, a country of around 38 million, has so far reported 2,893,173 cases of the coronavirus and 75,425 deaths.
($1 = 3.8441 zlotys)Reporting by Alicja Ptak; Writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Mike Harrison
File Photo Health care professionals listen to opera singer Zbigniew Kulwicki during Concert for Doctors in front of Wladyslaw Bieganski hospital in Grudziadz, Poland 30 April 2020. The concert is a tribute to the medical services for their dedication in the fight against coronavirus. EPA-EFE/TYTUS ZMIJEWSK