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Hungarians' healthcare worries dominate EU polls

Pablo Gutierrez in Budapest


Healthcare is one of the main issues for voters heading to the polls this weekend for the European elections.

A recent Eurobarometer survey by the European Union reveals that voters have become much more concerned about the state of Europe's public health systems since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Hungary, the country's public system is in crisis due to the lack of doctors and long waiting times for patients.

Posters of election candidates are everywhere in Budapest. /CGTN
Posters of election candidates are everywhere in Budapest. /CGTN

Posters of election candidates are everywhere in Budapest. /CGTN

A year ago, Erika Csako suffered from a persistent headache, fever, and worsening muscle and bone pain. Thinking something was seriously wrong with her, she sought medical help. Expecting to be referred to a specialist, she was instead put on a waiting list.

‌"I was running a high fever of 40-41 degrees every day. I became so weak I could barely stand. I lost my job, and within a few weeks, everything I had worked so hard to achieve was gone, said Csako.

She was admitted briefly to a Budapest hospital but soon discharged when her fever subsided.

‌"They gave me a lot of steroids, which only worsened my condition. My kidneys stopped functioning. It's been a horrible year for me. They said they couldn't do anything more for me and discharged me," said Csako.

Erika's story isn't uncommon in Hungary. Healthcare experts say the country faces a healthcare crisis due to the departure of many doctors and nurses for better opportunities in Western Europe. Over the past decade, about 8,500 doctors and nurses have left Hungary. This has led to understaffed hospitals and longer patient waiting times.


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There are nearly 40,000 people on the waiting list for surgical and medical procedures, according to the National Health Insurance Fund Management. Some patients are having to wait more than six months before they get an appointment, meaning Hungary has some of the longest waiting lists in Europe.

Dr. Adrianna Soos, who leads Hungary's healthcare association, blames low government spending for the country's struggling health system.‌

"Compared to the EU, one of Hungary's major issues is the low spending on healthcare as a percentage of the national income. This impacts the quality of healthcare provided," said Soos.

Hungary currently spends the least in the EU on healthcare, with just over 4 percent of GDP allocated to public health. In January, salaries for doctors and nurses were increased by 11 percent in an attempt to retain medical professionals. 

Now, the average monthly salary for a general practitioner stands at $6,200. Despite this, many doctors say they still feel overwhelmed by their workload, with more patients and fewer resources.

According to Dr. Soos: ‌"The EU should set minimum wages for healthcare, just as it has done with other industries. This would mean each country ensures their healthcare wages meet this minimum standard. Similarly, the EU could require member states to maintain a certain level of healthcare to ensure a consistent level of care across the EU."

It took nearly a year for Csako to be diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a rare bone cancer that stops the body from making enough red blood cells. Now, she gets two blood transfusions every month.

Despite her condition, she treasures each day, knowing that with proper treatment, people with this disease typically live about six years.

Hungarians' healthcare worries dominate EU polls

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