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HEALTH

‘Keep doctors working until they’re 70,’ struggling Italian hospitals tell government

Regional health authorities are calling on Italy’s government to allow them to recruit retired doctors and keep those older than 65 working until they’re 70, as a means of tackling their serious shortages of medical practitioners.

'Keep doctors working until they're 70,' struggling Italian hospitals tell government
Photo: AFP

Short-staffed hospitals across Italy are pushing for the retirement age of the country’s physicians to be extended to the age of 70 in their regions.

The proposal is part of a 16-point document to be presented to Italy’s Ministry of Health in the coming days which aims for there to be a “regulatory amendment on age limits for the retirement of medical personnel”.

Currently doctors in Italy can retire once they’ve turned 65 or having worked for 40 years.

Struggling regional governments are calling for those “who reach 40 years of service at 66-67 years and would like to continue working” to do so.

Italy’s ageing medical workforce is somewhat of a sleeping giant.

By 2025, 38,000 doctors will have retired (45,000 if you include general practitioners),causing  a shortage that will be further aggravated by the fact that Italian universities are not able to train enough graduates to supply hospitals with specialists.

The regional health councils’ proposal therefore also includes a measure proposing young medical graduates who haven’t chosen a specialization yet to be recruited more easily as GPs.

Closely tied to this is the idea of regions offering specialist training scholarships which include a fixed contract at the end to young doctors, as well as forging a closer working relationship between local health authorities and universities, all as a means of speeding up the recruitment process in Italy’s struggling health sector.

Regions such as Veneto have in fact already tried to take matters into their own hands by headhunting retired physicians. Molise in the south has called on army doctors to help out and Tuscany has started recruiting younger doctors.

 

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges on Thursday dismissed legal challenges to Italy's vaccine mandate as "inadmissible” and “unfounded”, as 1.9 million people face fines for refusing the jab.

Italy's constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges were asked this week to determine whether or not vaccine mandates introduced by the previous government during the pandemic – which applied to healthcare and school staff as well as over-50s – breached the fundamental rights set out by Italy’s constitution.

Italy became the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

The Constitutional Court upheld the law in a ruling published on Thursday, saying it considered the government’s requirement for healthcare personnel to be vaccinated during the pandemic period neither unreasonable nor disproportionate.

Judges ruled other questions around the issue as inadmissible “for procedural reasons”, according to a court statement published on Thursday.

This was the first time the Italian Constitutional Court had ruled on the issue, after several regional courts previously dismissed challenges to the vaccine obligation on constitutional grounds.

A patient being administered a Covid jab.

Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP

One Lazio regional administrative court ruled in March 2022 that the question of constitutional compatibility was “manifestly unfounded”.

Such appeals usually centre on the question of whether the vaccine requirement can be justified in order to protect the ‘right to health’ as enshrined in the Italian Constitution.

READ ALSO: Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Meanwhile, fines kicked in from Thursday, December 1st, for almost two million people in Italy who were required to get vaccinated under the mandate but refused.

This includes teachers, law enforcement and healthcare workers, and the over 50s, who face fines of 100 euros each under rules introduced in 2021.

Thursday was the deadline to justify non-compliance with the vaccination mandate due to health reasons, such as having contracted Covid during that period.

Italy’s health minister on Friday however appeared to suggest that the new government may choose not to enforce the fines.

“It could cost more for the state to collect the fines” than the resulting income, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci told Radio Rai 1.

He went on to say that it was a matter for the Economy and Finance Ministry, but suggested that the government was drawing up an amendment to the existing law.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

The League, one of the parties which comprises the new hard-right government, is pushing for fines for over-50s to be postponed until June 30th 2023.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had promised a clear break with her predecessor’s health policies, after her Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic in 2021 when it was in opposition.

At the end of October, shortly after taking office, the new government allowed doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work earlier than planned after being suspended for refusing the Covid vaccine.

There has been uncertainty about the new government’s stance after the deputy health minister in November cast doubt on the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, saying he was “not for or against” vaccination.

Italy’s health ministry continues to advise people in at-risk groups to get a booster jab this winter, and this week stressed in social media posts that vaccination against Covid-19 and seasonal flu remained “the most effective way to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially the elderly and frail”.

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