Emergency services medics in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia resigned en masse on May 29 in protest against the government’s attempt to fire the head and deputy head of emergency medical care over a series of incidents in which ambulance response times have been too slow.
The issue of ambulance delays again came to the fore in Sofia after the May 28 death of well-known wedding photographer Elisabet Dimitrova. Allegedly, an ambulance took more than half an hour to arrive to assist the 40-year-old after she collapsed. The driver has denied this, saying that the response time was nine minutes and that Dimitrova was already dead when the ambulance arrived.
The incident, given prominent media coverage, was the latest in which people had died because of ambulances taking a long time to arrive.
Amid the new public outcry, the government said that was proposing the dismissal of the director of the Centre for Emergency Medical Care, Dr Georgi Gelev, and one of his deputies, Dr Angel Angelov.
A snap investigation by the Health Ministry found that the reasons for the delay in responding to the call to help Dimitrova included inadequate staffing, poor organisation of available resources, hiring policies, and continuing inadequacies in communications between the emergency number 112 and the old 150 hotline.
Medics have responded with complaints including overall inadequate funding and have put demands for increased salaries, saying that low pay resulted in low motivation to work for the emergency medical service.
On May 29, Gelev said that he would not submit his resignation. In a television interview, he rejected allegations of bad organisation and inadequate control at the emergency medical aid service.
He said that he had not discussed the ministry’s proposal for his dismissal with the Health Ministry and had heard about from the media.
Gelev added that the minimum salary in the sector should be increased to at least 1500 leva (about 750 euro). Medics were being paid 600 to 800 leva.
Boyko Penev, deputy health minister, told an earlier news conference that the government had “made a priority” of improving the lot of emergency medical assistance and had planned and was preparing to announce public procurements of 22 million leva solely for emergency medical assistance resources.
“The other thing we managed to do on a national level is Brussels accepting the urgent medical aid (sector) is a priority, which they will support. This will be a part of the agreement on partnership which I expect to be signed. We have currently made efforts to defend an additional investment over to three years, estimated at 140 million leval, solely for emergency medical assistance,” Penev said.
Dr Desislava Katelieva, of the association of emergency medical service staff, underlined in a television interview that problems in the service dated back years and said, “currently, the emergency service is clinically dead”.
Katelieva said that part of the problem was people calling ambulances for medical problems that were not emergencies.
The problems would not be solved, “even if you replace all the directors in the country”.
She said that major regulatory changes were needed from the Health Ministry and the parliamentary committee on health care.
However, instead of these urgent changes being made, all that the ministry had produced was a new permissible medications list, “which was practically inapplicable”.
Medics that protested outside the health ministry headquarters in Sofia demanded the resignation of Tanya Andreeva, health minister in the embattled Bulgarian Socialist Party cabinet.
Reports on May 29 said that emergency medics from other major cities, including Plovdiv, were joining the protest.