Over 20,000 doctors from hospitals and private practices all over Germany took to the streets Wednesday to protest against poor salaries and bureaucracy in the statutory health system.
Most German doctors are no longer willing to accept what they refer to as the adverse funding conditions in the statutory health system. Many of them voiced their anger and frustration on the streets of Berlin, while smaller protest actions took place in other big cities across the country. Tens of thousands of practices were shut nationwide.
Andreas Schulz, a general practitioner in Lower Saxony and one of the protesters in Berlin, hoped that Wednesday's protest would have an impact on Germany's politicians.
"We definitely think that with our action today and following action we are able to change the existing conditions. The leading politicians, including our new Chancellor Merkel, will have to listen to the doctors, because otherwise the patient care will go down in Germany."
The restricted funding policy pursued by statutory health funds and endorsed by the government does not only mean less money for the treatment of patients but also less money in doctors' pockets at the end of the day. Doctors are forced to observe ceilings on what they spend on their patients or face financial penalties themselves.
"The amount of money the health insurance funds give to the doctors is very strictly budgeted," explained Hans-Jörg Freese, a spokesman for the German Medical Association.
Health insurance funds decide fees
Doctors say they have been inadequately paid for a decade
"We have a different system when you compare it with other countries like Britain, where you have a state financed system. In Germany we have health insurance funds, and they have to decide and negotiate with the doctors the amount of money they give for the healthcare system. And we have had low wages over the last 10 years in Germany."
Health Minister Ulla Schmidt has shown little sympathy for the doctors. She has said that doctors have less to complain about than they would have us believe. She doesn't subscribe to the view that doctors are paid too little, insisting that their incomes are above the average earnings of German academics.
Politicians have no grip on realistic figures, say doctors
Doctors and nurses are blowing the whistle on their pay conditions
But Andreas Schulz said the minister didn't know what she was talking about. "The politicians do not understand hospital funding, and they definitely don't understand funding of the practices outside the hospital," the doctor said. "They mention numbers that are valid about the turnover of funding inside and outside the hospitals, but the important thing is what is left for the individual doctor, for the individual practice, after everything has been paid."
The protesters are warning that more and more German doctors will leave the country, if conditions in the health system remain unchanged. They point out that a third of all doctor's practices are currently facing bankruptcy and that the number is even higher in rural areas.In many cases, nurses can no longer be employed full-time and the purchase of essential new equipment is postponed to avoid financial disaster.