Doctors' strikes in Germany are in their third week and costing hospitals hundreds of thousands of euros every day. Some hospital administrators said cutting personnel may be their only option.
Striking doctors cost their hospitals up to 500,000 euros per day
Every day, some 6,000 doctors in 23 cities across Germany trade their stethoscopes and scalpels for whistles and signs, and the hospitals where they work lose between 250,000 euros and 600,000 euros ($245,000 and $735,000), according to the German Hospital Association's Andreas Priefler.
"The strikes are hitting the hospitals down to the bone," he told Süddeutsche Zeitung daily. "If the strikes take longer, it could reach hundreds of millions."
"The strikes are becoming more and more of a threat to our hospital's economic existence," read a letter to Düsseldorf University Hospital employees.
Operations have dropped by 40 percent
Roland Grabiak, of the Düsseldorf hospital called the strikes an "economic disaster," adding that it would take months of regular operation before the hospital would be back on its feet as patient rates have dropped by a third, with 60 percent of operations being performed.
Job cuts to recover losses possible
That's exactly the effect Frank Ulrich Montgomery, head of the Marburger Bund doctor's union -- which has around 22,000 members -- has been hoping for.
"The strikes will continue for as long as employers insist on additional income cuts," he said at a demonstration Tuesday in Ulm.
An effect Montgomery has hoped to avoid has, however, now been put forth by some hospital administrators. They have made it clear that revenue losses caused by the strikes could result in personnel reductions.
"We have to seriously consider if we want to continue employing so many young people," Jörg Tarnow, head of the Düsseldorf clinic said. "Since more than 70 percent of our budget goes to personnel costs, it is clear where the savings measures will have to focus."
After the strikes, some doctors may be washing windows for a living
A hospital in Erlangen, where operations have dropped by 20 percent, has gone 2.6 million euros into the red due to the strikes, hospital spokesman Johannes Eissing told the Associated Press. He said the losses were equal to 54 jobs.
Eissing said other means of recovering the missing funds were being considered, and added that the hospital wouldn't be able to make any decisions until the striks are over and it's clear how many patients come back.
No end to strikes in sight
For the moment the unions do not seem fazed by the hospitals' potential plans.
"This is a normal employer reaction," Verdi's Martin Körbel-Landwehr said. "We are not going to be scared away by this threat."
But since the negotiators aren't even at the bargaining table, the Marburger Bund seems to be assuming that there won't be a deal soon. It's already planned further protests for April 11 and April 25.