In November, medical workers in Moscow organized mass demonstrations to protest against the downsizing that has occurred as part of recent health care reform. However, according to journalist Olga Melnikova, the Russian health care sector could actually benefit from job cuts.


According to the report published by medical activists in early December, over 100 hospitals, clinics and medical centers might be shut down under the healthcare reform in Moscow. Photo:


I recently read a comment on an article on the closure of dozens of hospitals and medical centers in Moscow that said, “What a shame that the most needed people—doctors, teachers, plowmen—are the first to suffer! I wish it were editors, businessmen and journalists, whom nobody needs, who would die of hunger instead.” I did not try to explain to the author of this comment that state employees are the first to suffer mainly because they are supported at the state’s expense.

The reality, however, is that there has not been any free medical care in Russia for a long time now. Free medical care exists in theory, since the government has instituted different quotas for patients to receive free medical treatment, and some categories of citizens are entitled to compensation for prescription drug costs. But what is a quota in reality? A quota means that a patient whose condition requires urgent surgery can be put on a several-month-long waiting list. It means that although some patients are entitled to compensation, their prescription drugs are unavailable. It means that instead of effective medications, patients receive their cheaper and lower-quality analogues. In Russian free medical care, a dentist can tell you that he does not have any anesthetics and that either he can operate on you without anesthesia or you can go to the pharmacy and get your painkillers yourself. Or a doctor can tell you during surgery performed under local anesthesia, “If you are ready to pay an extra 8,000 rubles, I can have the chief of the department take a look at your tumor.”

It is true that the medical profession in Russia has become one of the most vulnerable employment sectors, because in a country where human life has hardly any value, it is hard to expect people to conscientiously perform their jobs when those jobs are connected to matters of life and death. Professional skills and a decent attitude remain exceptions to the rule, regardless of how much you are prepared to pay. Just listen to doctors in Europe and Israel, to whom Russian patients turn in desperation, and you will find out how many inaccurate, if not entirely wrong, diagnoses people get from doctors in private Russian clinics. Doctors often misdiagnose cancer and order unnecessary and expensive procedures and tests.

It is true that the medical profession in Russia has become one of the most vulnerable employment sectors, because in a country where human life has hardly any value, it is hard to expect people to conscientiously perform their jobs when those jobs are connected to matters of life and death.

God forbid you be brought to the hospital by an ambulance! They will not even treat you unless there is the threat of a big scandal. I speak from personal experience. Three years ago, my son was involved in an accident when the driver of a bus full of children fell asleep behind the wheel. My son was admitted to the Tushinskaya City Children’s Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion. The next day, I found out that my child was not receiving any treatment. He had not even been seen by an ophthalmologist. Instead of putting him in a dark room (the standard treatment after a concussion), he was being allowed to watch TV. “The hospital has only one ophthalmologist. So what do you want me to do?” his treating physician asked me. I kicked up a row and managed to take my son away from the hospital. My child was only allowed to leave with me after I agreed not to request his hospitalization record.

I contacted all the doctors I knew. I took my son to an ophthalmologist, a neurologist, and an osteopath for medical screening. I spent two weeks at home with him to make sure he stayed in a dark room without reading or playing. My son’s rehabilitation took a year. Since my child’s accident, I realized that in Russia, as far as medical treatment is concerned, you should always take matters into your own hands and double-check everything.

Two weeks ago, due to medical malpractice, we lost my stepfather’s granddaughter. She was a healthy 18-month-old baby. She swallowed a battery. The doctors delayed surgery, which resulted in an infection, coma, the insertion of a feeding tube that ruptured the baby’s lungs, pneumonia, horrible pain, and ultimately a funeral.

These are not isolated cases. News about children dying in hospitals in different Russian regions appears in the media every week. And this is only the information that reaches the mass media, whereas the majority of such cases get hushed up.

This is the reason why I am not concerned about the downsizing of the medical sector. True professionals will always find work. Qualified doctors and not just people wearing doctors’ gowns will always be in demand, even if they are practicing in a remote village and are being paid in fresh produce, poultry, eggs, milk, and sour cream.

I look forward to seeing thousands of state employees made redundant. I hope that such a fate will eventually befall officials of all ranks. In my opinion, there is nothing fatal about the fact that the state-provided salaries of a small group of people with doubtful qualifications might turn to dust. If that happens, they will not have enough money to spend their summer holidays in Crimea or the “degenerate Europe” that they despise, although in words only.

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