Czechs to hike healthcare salaries to stop doctors from leaving west

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech doctors and nurses will get a 10 percent pay rise from January next year to help stop them from leaving abroad or to other professions, a trend that has created shortages in the healthcare system.

The Czech Republic has a universal insurance system that provides care to all citizens. But the costs have forced providers to keep salaries low, prompting many doctors to work in neighboring Austria and Germany or elsewhere in the European Union where they earn multiples of Czech salaries.

“It is necessary to raise salaries for nurses and doctors from January 1 next year by 10 percent,” Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Tuesday said after a meeting with coalition partners and healthcare unions.

“The state has to contribute by raising payments it makes for those insured by the state,” Sobotka said.

While doctors leave for jobs abroad, nurses often opt to leave the industry for other sectors that offer better pay. The trend has been observed in other poorer European Union countries as well, including Slovakia where healthcare funding was one of the main topics in a March parliamentary election.

The Czech Republic has been cutting public deficits in recent years as the economy grows but salaries in some public professions, especially in areas like education or medical personnel remain far below western Europe.

The average gross Czech monthly salary was 28,152 Czech crowns ($1,208) in the final quarter last year.

Data from national health information institute for 2014, the latest available, showed doctors on average made 55,068-61,393 crowns and nurses 24,208-29,322 crowns per month.

The medical sector hike follows private sector wage agreements that signal wage growth in various parts of the economy which expanded by 4.3 percent last year. That may be welcome by the central bank struggling to move inflation up toward its 2 percent target.

The domestic shortage is being plugged by doctors from Slovakia, Ukraine and Russia, but still some hospitals have been forced to close down departments due to lack of staff.

Finance Minister Andrej Babis said after Tuesday’s meeting that rising health insurance revenue that is linked to the economic growth would make room for the pay hikes, which he said would cost around 6 billion crowns ($257.40 million) per year.

Reporting by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka Editing by Jeremy Gaunt