German Press Review: Court Ruling Good News for Healthcare | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 10.09.2003
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German Press Review: Court Ruling Good News for Healthcare

German editorial pages on Wednesday concentrated on Germany’s spiraling government debt and a European court ruling that German hospitals have to pay their doctors for the time they spend on call.


German doctors must now be paid if they are placed on call according to an EU high court ruling.

Nearly every German newspaper had something to say about the European Union Court of Justice ruling on Tuesday that doctors in Germany have to be paid for the time they spend on-call, even if they are sleeping.

"For years, the federal government knew that the labor laws had to change," wrote Stuttgart’s Stuttgarter Nachrichten. "This political insanity corresponds with medical recklessness. When overly tired doctors have to work more than 80 hours in a clinic, it has little to do with the Hippocratic Oath. The patients should be grateful to the EU Court of Justice for taking a long and accurate look at who is laying in hospital beds."

"In the end, this decision will clearly raise the pressure on clinics to be more economical," wrote Essen’s Neue Ruhr/Neue Rhein-Zeitung. "Flexible organizational structures and shift models can help make the end of marathon shifts relatively cost effective. That means, without dramatically increasing personnel costs. On the other hand, the pressure to become economically efficient will also thin out the clinic landscape. The working hours decision strengthens the growing (and politically desirable) competition among hospitals. And some of the less profitable will have to be stricken from the ledger. And, by the way, it doesn’t especially hurt patients when doctors work fewer hours. According to statistics, errors drop with shift changes."

"For many years, the solution to this problem has been procrastinated on," wrote Frankfurt’s Frankfurter Rundschau. "But behind the curtains, the ministers involved seem to have clearly understood that the labor law couldn’t survive," the paper’s editors said. "But the problems now confronting the clinics are in no way solved. The hospitals have to find the necessary workforce, and with its delay tactics the federal government has only prevented employers and employees from responsibly preparing for this reality."

The papers devoted equal venom to the issue of Germany’s spiraling government debt.

"For German Finance Minister Hans Eichel, the loss of credibility is especially painful," wrote the editors of Stuttgart’s other major daily, the Stuttgarter Zeitung. "Because he claims to do everything better than his predecessor," the paper wrote, "the recommended budget for the year ahead is full of risks, because another unforgiving balance sheet awaits. Germany will miss the budget targets established by the Maastricht Treaty this year, and probably next year as well. And Eichel will only emerge from the depths when he learns from his mistakes. Instead of planning into the wild blue yonder, the government should calculate realistically. If not, the same debacle will threaten us next year."

But at least one other paper sympathized with beleaguered Eichel. "If pity were an element of political combat, Hans Eichel would have earned it," wrote Bonn’s General Anzeiger. "Rarely is a finance minister so severely sliced by his own people. Rarely -- and this doesn’t seem to change the hunting instinct of the opposition Christian Democrats a bit -- has a finance minister made it so easy for his opponents. Of course, not only he makes it easy, but they do so themselves. But that’s too easy. They allow themselves to be guided by tactical motives instead of by the knowledge that a common strength is needed when the wheelbarrow has to be pulled from the mud."