New Health Minister Faces Many Challenges

By , 28 Mar 2019, 12:30 PM Politics
Aleš Šabeder Aleš Šabeder YouTube

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STA, 27 March 2019 - Aleš Šabeder is taking charge of the Ministry of Health, replacing Samo Fakin, who stepped down at the beginning of March, citing health reasons. Before becoming director general of the UKC Ljubljana hospital a year ago, Šabeder had no experience in the healthcare sector.

As the new health minister Šabeder will be confronted with many challenges such as healthcare reforms and navigating through various political interests.

Born in 1970 in the city of Ptuj, Šabeder has a degree in economics. Most of his experience stems from working in the corporate sector, including at one of the senior posts at the fuel trader Petrol (2006-08), and serving as one of the regional directors for wholesale and retail at the retailer Mercator (2008-14).

In January 2014, he took over at the seed manufacturer Semenarna Ljubljana as director general, marketing director, and exports department manager before moving on four years later to become director general of UKC Ljubljana, the country's main medical centre employing around 8,000 people.

UKC Ljubljana generated a loss of EUR 23m last year, up considerably compared to the target loss of EUR 15m. This was after the hospital made a deficit of EUR 33.5m in 2017, which was turned into a surplus of EUR 46.4m after the hospital received almost EUR 80m under the government hospital bailout plan.

On his appointment at UKC, the hospital's council cited his management experience and experience in negotiating with trade unions; however, the doctors' trade union and several political parties considered him a political appointee, supported by the then ruling Modern Centre Party (SMC).

During his presentation in parliament, Šabeder was criticised for failing to offer concrete solutions, and he admitted he would have to get briefed on the situation fast.

He pledged to endeavour for accessible and quality public health system, one that is "neither left nor right", but remains in the professional domain rather than a political one.

Šabeder is fluent in English, German, Croatian, and Serbian. He is married and has a daughter.

All our stories on healthcare in Slovenia are here

Plans to cut waiting times and bureaucracy

STASTA, 26 March 2019 - Aleš Šabeder, the nominee for health minister, was confirmed by the relevant parliamentary committee on Tuesday, with 12 MPs voting in favour and two against. He announced a systematic approach to cut waiting times and red tape, and an overhaul of the health care and health insurance act.

As the hearing started yesterday, the candidate said that the people must be provided with accessible and quality public health services, adding that he had got well acquainted with the complexity and the needs of the Slovenian healthcare system.

One of his first priorities will be to revise waiting lists on the national level and then prepare measures to cut waiting times such as setting up additional programmes and focus on the areas where the number of patients is rising.

The system of appointments needs to be revised as well, and paperwork should be reduced to relieve the burden on doctors who are already struggling with excessive workload. They need efficient IT support, he believes.

Touching on the problems on the primary level, he said that Slovenia simply did not have enough GPs, so structural changes were needed in this area to relieve the pressure on the secondary and tertiary levels.

Today, Šabeder said he was ready to cooperate with all parties and listen to their proposals. He is in talks with candidates for state secretaries at the ministry, "who will not be politically appointed, they will be experts."

Regarding the idea to abolish supplementary health insurance, he said this would require a stable and long-term source of financing. Possible solutions are a higher contribution rate, a healthcare tax, and levies on alcohol, tobacco and sugary drinks.

Quizzed by MPs, Šabeder admitted that "at this moment I don't know what the best solution is", but added that he was not connected with any healthcare insurers and not in conflict of interest.

Regarding the shortage of GPs, he reiterated that the number of specialisations should be increased and encourage students to study family medicine.

Corruption in the procurement of medical equipment should be fought by introducing national standards which would apply to all healthcare institutions, he said, adding that public procurement legislation should also be amended.

Šabeder, who has been director of the UKC Ljubljana hospital for over a year, is set to be appointed health minister by the National Assembly on Wednesday, to succeed Samo Fakin, who stepped down at the beginning of March for health reasons.

He told the STA after the vote he was happy he had managed to also convince members of the opposition, adding that he believed that he would get the required majority tomorrow.

Šabeder commented on the hearing by saying that there were a lot of open issues in healthcare. "I know that I'm sitting in a hot sea and that there are many challenges, which we can resolve with consensus and agreement."

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