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Asylum seekers given priority for hospital visits

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Refugees arriving at Vienna's Westbahnhof station. File photo: Caritas
12:59 CET+01:00
An admission by Austrian health officials that asylum seekers have been given priority for hospital visits has been greeted by angry reaction.

The reason is that many asylum seekers need expensive translators to help communicate with doctors, and officials do not want to pay for the translators to sit around waiting.

The problem was highlighted last week when large numbers of people turned up at hospitals because of a flu epidemic, and had to wait to see doctors whilst asylum seekers were given priority treatment.

As part of the asylum process, refugees get a health check. With 90,000 asylum seekers registered last year, this has put a huge strain on health resources.

Austrian officials have confirmed that they have been ordered not to make asylum seekers wait and to give them fast track treatment.

"Priority is being given to asylum seekers because of the issue with translators," said Ralph Luger, from the KAV (Krankenanstaltenverbundes) health board in Vienna which runs more than a dozen hospitals in the capital. 

Martin Gantner from the charity Caritas said that it meant asylum seekers were given priority in the same way that prisoners or people with disabilities are also be prioritised.

He added that although many refugees were given a social insurance card, most of them failed to take it with them when they visited doctors or hospitals, and the language barrier meant it caused further delays in already overstretched hospitals.

Austrian Doctors’ Association spokeswoman Sarah Schernthaner said: "Without the card we don't know if the person is just passing through or if they are seeking asylum in Austria, and there is no chance of the costs being refunded without the card."

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The extra stress has considerably changed the attitude of Austrian medics. In September last year close to 500 doctors offered their services for asylum seekers. Since then, however, the number has shrunk to between 150 and 200.

Story courtesy of Central European News.

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