Hungary PM agrees on big wage hike for doctors as COVID-19 cases rise

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government agreed with the Hungarian Medical Chamber on a substantial wage hike for doctors on Saturday, as the country braces for a further rise in coronavirus cases that could strain its healthcare system.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Hungary reported 1,086 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, bringing the total number of infections so far to 29,717 with 812 deaths.

Like many other east European countries, Hungary is grappling with a shortage of doctors and medical workers as local salaries pale in comparison to western European levels.

Gyula Kincses, chairman of the Hungarian Medical Chamber, said the government has accepted a proposed pay scale for doctors that would see base salaries for medical practitioners and doctors roughly double from current levels.

“We have finally managed to achieve what we have been fighting for, that we will be able to work in a healthcare system without gratuity payments, with appropriate salaries,” Kincses told an online news briefing.

Depending on age and level of experience, medical practitioners will earn 700,000 to 800,000 forints, while older doctors will receive up to 2.4 million forints, Kincses said.

The wage rises, which Kincses said would be front-loaded from January, would be implemented over two years, rising to the newly agreed levels by 2023.

Orban said in a Facebook video that his government would submit legislation on the wage hikes to parliament on Monday.

“Our hospitals will come under enormous strain over the next seven to eight months,” he said, adding that a COVID-19 vaccine was not expected before the second half of next year.

“Now is the time for a massive wage improvement for our doctors,” he said.

Kincses said the sides had also agreed to clamp down on the practice of gratuity payments, with possible penalties for both patients making and doctors accepting such out-of-pocket payments in return for medical services.

Orban, who faces an election in the first half of 2022, also confirmed this week that his government would resume the payment of an extra month’s worth of pensions from 2021, as the economy is headed for a slower-than-expected recovery from the pandemic.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Hugh Lawson