Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has pledged, as part of its campaign for October’s parliamentary elections, to spend billions of zloty on improving the standard of food offered to patients in hospitals.
Opposition parties, however, have asked why PiS has not already done this during its eight years in power. They also note that, for many Poles, the biggest problem is getting a place in hospital for treatment rather than the food they receive once they are there.
PiS is this week unveiling a major policy each day as part of its election campaign. Yesterday, it announced that it would invest five billion zloty a year in improving the communist-era housing estates that millions of Poles call home.
Today, health minister Katarzyna Sójka revealed that the party plans to improve the quality of hospital food, which has long been the subject of complaint and ridicule by Poles.
— Exen 🇵🇱 (@Exen) October 13, 2017
“We have been improving the accessibility of healthcare, but health also means good food during treatment,” said Sójka, who is herself a medical doctor. “Patients are often dissatisfied with the quality of food served. We have to change this.”
The ruling party therefore plans to introduce a new programme, “Good Meal” (Dobry posiłek), that will provide not only higher-quality food to patients but also consultations with dieticians.
Later, a senior PiS figure, Joanna Lichocka, told broadcaster Polskie Radio that they would “allocate 1 billion zloty (€223 million) a year” to the programme.
— Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (@pisorgpl) September 5, 2023
PiS’s proposal was, however, met with immediate criticism from opposition figures.
Magdalena Biejat, a co-leader of The Left (Lewica), told broadcaster Polsat that, while it was clear that patients require better food, it is “an embarrassment for the government” that only now, after eight years in office, are they saying they will introduce this if they win a third term.
Biejat also noted that the issue of food in hospitals is only one part of a much wider set of problems with Poland’s underfunded public healthcare system. The Left, therefore, wants to introduce “systematic changes” rather than just “symbolic” ones, she said.
Speaking to Gazeta Wyborcza, an opposition-friendly newspaper, an anonymous doctor said, “nutrition is important, but, forgive me, the primary function of a hospital is treatment, and there is not enough money for that”.
Just over half (51%) of Poles use both public and private healthcare services, the highest figure ever recorded.
Only 24% exclusively use public healthcare – a record low – while 11% rely only on private providers https://t.co/uUshVwDjEv
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 29, 2023
Similar criticism was voiced by the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), the largest opposition group. “If health is the most important thing, why have you been starving patients for eight years?” tweeted MP Dariusz Joński.
“Meals are important, but first you need to be able to…get into the hospital at all,” added one of his parliamentary colleagues, Arkadiusz Myrcha, referring to the broader failings of Poland’s healthcare system, which has among the lowest relative numbers of doctors and nurses in Europe.
“They’ve been in power for eight years [and] have caused the ruin and bankruptcy of hospitals,” tweeted Krystyna Szumilas, a former education minister. “PiS does not give billions of zlotys for [covering] debts but it deceives people with subsidies for meals. Patients will eat them in closed wards.”
Rządzą już 8 lat. Doprowadzili do ruiny i bankructwa szpitale (np. te w Pyskowicach i Knurowie, które władza chce łączyć, by likwidować oddziały).
PiS nie daje mld zł na odłużenia, ale mami ludzi dofinansowaniem do posiłków. Pacjenci będą je jeść na zlikwidowanych oddziałach pic.twitter.com/PfF0Rfei5Q
— KrystynaSzumilas🇵🇱 (@kr_szumilas) September 5, 2023
A number of journalists also pointed out that the PiS government has already been preparing measures to improve the quality of hospital food since last year. Therefore today’s promise, they argue, is nothing new but simply the presentation of a policy that the ruling party has thus far failed to implement.
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Main image credit: Jedzenie w szpitalach/Facebook
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.