Wed, 22 Sep 2021

Several thousand nurses gathered in Budapest on July 31 to demand better pay and working conditions in Hungary's ailing public health system.

The protest rally came after a recent survey revealed that many nurses in Hungary are thinking about leaving the country for higher salaries elsewhere -- a development that would further burden a system already short of workers.

Nurses wearing white T-shirts and carrying white balloons gathered in a central Budapest square. Hundreds of them arrived from outside the capital and travelled hours to attend the rally.

The crowd also included supporters from several of Hungary's largest trade unions.

Demonstrators said the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already precarious situation for health-care workers while their demands for pay raises and reduced working hours have gone unheeded by the government.

'The past period has been very difficult for us,' said Kata Gornicsak, who has worked for 26 years as a chief nurse in a Budapest hospital.

'The COVID pandemic has turned our lives upside down," she said. "The reason we are here is not because of hope but desperation. We want respect, which we are not getting at all."

Like many countries in Central Europe and Eastern European, where local salaries are much less than Western European levels, Hungary faces a shortage of doctors and medical workers.

Zoltan Balogh, chairman of the Chamber of Hungarian Health-Care Professionals, said the survey conducted by his organization suggests there could be 'a huge wave of nurses quitting when pandemic travel restrictions are lifted across Europe.'

Balogh says that, before the pandemic, about 400-500 nurses were already leaving Hungary every year.

Ibolya Pinter Gal, a veteran nurse for more than three decades has been caring for COVID-19 patients in an intensive care unit since March 2020. She says she was promised extra pay for the high-risk work, but still has not received it.

'We are the mid-level professionals who are always forgotten when salaries are raised,' she said.

Hungary's Minister of Human Resources Miklos Kasler was invited to the July 31 rally but did not attend.

Kasler did send a letter thanking nurses for their work.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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