I assume everybody remembers the political struggle over the fate of the practically bankrupt hospital in the city of Eger in northern Hungary. By the way, Eger occupies a famous place in Hungarian history because of the successful defence of the town's fortification against a Turkish onslaught in 1552. According to the Hungarian version 2,000 men held the fort against 80,000 Turks. One of the most popular novels in Hungarian literature is a book written about the event. The English title is The Eclipse of the Crescent Moon and the author Géza Gárdonyi (1866-1922). The defenders of the fort are considered to be national heroes. Few words are uttered about the fact that 44 years later, in 1596, the fortress of Eger fell and the Turks settled the town for almost 100 years, converting the Christian churches to mosques and erecting a rather impressive minaret, still the pride of the city. The hospital in contention is situated very close to this minaret and, I am sure, the defenders of the hospital (this is actually what they call themselves) often compared themselves to the brave band of 2,000 fighting against those 80,000 Turks.
Well, just as the defenders of 1552 couldn't save the city for good, the defenders of the hospital also had to give up their "heroic" struggle against the "foreign capitalists" who run Hospinvest, a business venture specializing in hospital management. They did everything they could to thwart the deal between the County of Heves, the owner of the hospital, and Hospinvest. It is worth noting that the hospital had been run so badly that every quarter they were deeper and deeper in the red. The County of Heves had to subsidize them. Eventually it became obvious that the county simply couldn't keep up the hospital. Moreover, the hospital needed capital improvements costing billions of forints, and there was no money to invest. Something had to be done. Through a perfectly legal bidding process Hospinvest got the privilege–if you can call it that–of running the hospital and investing billions and billions into improving the rather sad state of this particular medical establishment. The "defenders" for their part tried everything. They brought suits, they appealed, they tried to muscle their way into meetings, they held vigils and demonstrations, and according to the latest, they even did some physical damage, especially in the Department of Pediatrics. What the damage consists of we don't know. The spokesman of Hospinvest was very tight mouthed about it, simply saying that a police investigation is underway.
The "defenders" in the end were reduced to a small contingent of department heads of mostly far right persuasion. Apparently, they were hoping to "privatize" the hospital themselves. Or at least they were hoping to continue what is customarily done in Hungarian hospitals–conducting private business at the hospital's expense. As far as I can figure out, Fidesz wanted to divvy up the hospitals among doctors. Make them the owners. The problem with this plan was that it was not really privatization since the doctors didn't have the pooled resources to make the hospitals solvent and were not sufficiently savvy financially to have ready access to the capital markets. So basically the plan would have been a government subsidized giveaway to the doctors, undoubtedly weighted in favor of the top brass in the hospitals. The doctors would own the hospitals, the government would continue to pump money into them. With Fidesz's defeat in 2002 that plan came to naught. To add insult to injury, in 2006 came the SZDSZ-led Ministry of Health and SZDSZ's new ideas about privatizing health insurance instead of privatizing the medical establishments. I'm pretty sure that this was a blow to certain segments of the medical establishment and also explains in part the doctors' fierce opposition to the reforms.
In any case, the "defenders" lost. The number of demonstrators became smaller and smaller and by yesterday morning when there was supposed to be a big rally in front of the hospital only two older women showed up and ten minutes later left, realizing that the demonstration was off. The "defenders" were hoping for chaos but there was none, although they tried to organize an onslaught of thousands of phony patients that would have paralyzed service. They claimed that there were shortages of doctors in this or that department but in the end that didn't turn out to be true either. The latest is that they are trying to convince the local city council to establish a hospital just for them. Given the financial situation of Eger as well as the country as a whole, somehow I don't think that the City of Eger, even with a city council where Fidesz is in the majority, will be able to set up a second hospital, a pretty expensive undertaking especially if the Hospinvest-run hospital expands services as promised. I'm afraid they will have to go elsewhere. That is, if anyone wants to take troublemakers. If I were the head of a hospital I don't think that I would be too crazy to have Dr. Alfréd Pócs, aka the shaman, on my staff.