WARSAW, Oct 1 (Reuters) Nearly 2,000 Polish doctors have resigned in an escalating protest to demand more pay and better funding for the state health sector in the former communist country.
Almost a tenth of Poland's 800 state-run hospitals have been affected by the strike. At the weekend, more than 30 patients were evacuated from a hospital in southern Poland after over half the doctors there resigned.
The Health Ministry said today that nearly 2,000 doctors had quit and talks were taking place between management and doctors at 13 hospitals.
''No patient will be left without a doctor's care,'' Health Minister Zbigniew Religa told a news conference.
Polish health workers received a pay rise of about 30 per cent last year, but their wages are still far below those elsewhere in the European Union. Many doctors and nurses have left Poland to seek higher pay elsewhere.
Three weeks before a parliamentary election, the protests have been an embarrassment for the ruling conservatives, led by Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his twin brother Lech, the president.
The protests have been criticised by some patients' groups, who say they endanger patients' lives.
''These are cruel actions against patients who have become hostages in a wider fight over money,'' said Adam Sandauer, the head of patients' rights group Primum Non Nocere.
The government originally refused to yield to striking medical workers, saying pay increases would endanger public finances. But Religa said the National Health Fund would now transfer additional money to hospitals to help satisfy the doctors' demands.
Reuters MP VP0225