Health minister on changes to ambulance service, KEELPNO head resignation

Health Minister Andreas Loverdos on Tuesday unveiled plans for a comprehensive review of Greece's emergency ambulance system, as part of an effort to rationalise and reduce health care costs.

Among the steps proposed by the ministry is a law that will require national league football and basketball clubs to cover the costs of ambulances for their athletes themselves, so that emergency service EKAB ambulances are no longer kept on standby for major sports events.

"For every EKAB ambulance stationed at a sports venue, 70,000 people are deprived of that specific service," Loverdos pointed out.

During a press conference, health ministry officials presented figures concerning the track record of EKAB motorcycle paramedics during their first four months of operation, saying that they had responded to 460 calls that included quite serious incidents.

The ministry also unveiled plans to renew the ambulance fleet with the purchase of 200 new ambulances, the first purchased since 2004, and said that an operational plan was being drawn up to determine the exact needs of the ambulance service.

Officials noted that one of the major problems at the moment were the way people used the ambulance service, since only 10-15 percent of calls received each day were real emergencies.

Commenting on strikes by doctors and the incident with protesting doctors outside the health ministry on Tuesday morning, Loverdos said that the ministry had not ordered riot police to intervene and stressed that the ministry "conducts dialogue, does not use violence".

He criticised the doctors' attempt to try to force their way into the ministry, however, as well as the continued strikes by pharmacists, stressing that the bill liberalising their profession also insured its viability.

Asked about the resignation of the head of the Centre for the Control and Prevention of Diseases Dr. Georgios Saroglou, the minister said that this had been a surprise and announced that a new head of the centre will be appointed in June.

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