Doctors are leaving behind understaffed hospitals and a health care system teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

According to a recent survey of the Faculty of Medicine in Budapest, 66% of graduates in the European Union's new member said they planned to work abroad while 33% said they had already started searching for work in western Europe.

About 430 young doctors have left the country for better paying jobs since Hungary joined the bloc on 1 May of last year, according to Ivan Golub, president of the Union of Hungarian Hospitals.

"If this tendency continues, in a few years we will have to close hospitals because there will be no doctors around to work in them," Golub said.

He said a number of medical school graduates who do stay end up working not as doctors, but for pharmaceutical companies that pay higher wages.


Working weekends abroad

The average monthly salary for a Hungarian doctor is 180.000 forint ($970).


In western Europe meanwhile, a doctor can earn up to triple that amount for a single weekend on duty, according to a recent report by the Baranya county Chamber of Doctors in southern Hungary.

The government has no support
for privatisation of hospitals

The report says a number of Hungarian medical graduates, especially anaesthetists, spend weekends working at hospitals abroad, for example in neighbouring Austria, after a hard week's work back home.

"We don't have exact statistics on those who double up with work abroad, but there are many," said Jozsef Bodis, president of the Baranya county chamber.

Others decide to pack up for good.

Peter Salltsig, 31, graduated from medical school in Budapest and found a job in Switzerland where he says he earns in one year what he would earn in Hungary in 10 years.

Partying in Budapest

"I come to Budapest to party," Salltsig said, showing off his brand new sports car.

Hungary's western region bordering with Austria is the most affected by the desertion of doctors, leaving understaffed clinics behind them.

Anaesthetists are reportedly the most in demand abroad, especially in Austria, Britain and Germany.

"I come to Budapest to party"

Peter Salltsig,
Hungarian doctor working in Switzerland

The job vacancies in Hungary are often filled by ethnic Hungarians who live in poor neighbouring countries, such as Romania, Ukraine or Serbia.

Up to one-third of the vacant medical positions in central Hungary are filled with doctors from these countries, MTI national news agency reported earlier this month.

It added that many of the newcomers stay only briefly and then also move on to the west in hopes of even higher wages.

Cash-strapped

The cash-strapped Hungarian health care system, meanwhile, is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

The ruling Socialist-Liberal government has urged the privatisation of hospitals as the recipe for saving the institutions, but it has conceded it does not have enough political support to carry out any major reforms until elections in 2006.

A referendum in December urging a ban on privatisation of health institutions failed due to low turnout, but most of those casting ballots said they were opposed to the privatisation of hospitals.