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Doctors, Poland Needs You!

Latest update : 2008-01-09

Poland is losing its residents to the wealthier countries of Europe. The mayor of one city went on an odyssey to get them back.

The mayor of Wroclaw wants his people back.


On a quiet day six full buses leave his city, in southwestern Poland, packed with Poles looking for a better life in Britain.  On a busy day, it can be up to 15 buses for Britain, with more going to other Western European countries.


Some residents choose to fly – if they can get a seat. Tickets to London cost 30-100 euros on the budget airline Ryanair. Reflecting the direction of migration, the cost of a return ticket to Wroclaw is much lower – as little as 15 euros.


Poles are leaving Wroclaw – and other cities around the country – because they see more opportunity in the relatively prosperous West. Poland joined the European Union in 2004, making it easier for Poles to work in EU countries. Since then around one million Poles have left their country. Some reports put the figure closer to two million.


The exodus has been so fast that despite persistent high unemployment levels in Poland, there are already shortages of skilled staff in certain sectors.


Wroclaw (pronounced “Vrotswaf”) is Poland’s fourth-largest city. It has been particularly hard hit by the emigration, and its mayor, Rafel Dutkiezicz, decided to take matters into his own hands.


Wroc Loves You


Dutkiezicz travelled to London himself on a one-man mission to the half a million Poles estimated to have emigrated there since 2004. He placed advertisements in the five Polish newspapers that are now published in London saying that “Wroc Loves You.” He met with leaders of some 40 different Polish communities in the UK and sponsored concerts for Polish expats. Posters were hung up in pubs and clubs across London telling Poles that their country needs them. He also spread the word about the Wroclaw city hall’s Web site for homesick Poles.


The aim is not to tell Poles to come home now, Dutkiewicz says, but to keep the bridge between the old home and their adopted country.


“The feeling is that people will stay for a certain time in London but it is about watching what’s going on in Poland,” he told FRANCE 24.


The mayor estimates that Wroclaw actually has more to offer ambitious Poles than London and that rapid growth in his city will bring its salaries to Western levels within eight or nine years.


“Personal and professional careers and opportunities are more possible in Wroclaw than in London. London is already somewhat saturated. In a new economy with new companies setting up there are more opportunities,” he says.


Companies such as LG, Phillips, Siemens, Volvo and Hewlett-Packard are all investing in Wroclaw and will create up to 100,000 jobs for the city, Dutkiewicz says.


They are attracted by the highly educated and low-cost workforce. But with computer programmers, for example, able to earn over seven times as much in Britain, many young Poles may leave as soon as they graduate.


Poland is at the beginning of an economic boom, Dutkiewicz says. If the added employment opportunities continue, coupled with the departure of people in such numbers, Poland could move from 16% unemployment to having shortages.


“He Died Because There Were Not Enough Anesthesiologists”


One sector in Poland that’s already showing symptoms of pain from the Western pull is healthcare.


Data released for 2005 by the Polish Central Statistics Office shows that highly-skilled medical staff in Poland receive the lowest pay of all specialised professions.


According the Ministry for Health, 5% of Poland’s doctors applied for a certificate that allows them to transfer their licenses within the EU. Some 4% are thought to have actually moved abroad. That’s around 6,000 doctors.


More worrying, perhaps, is the fact that 14% of the country’s anesthesiologists have applied for the certificate. In Wroclaw one quarter of ananesthesiologists made the request.


Poles have moved mostly for the higher wages. A doctor in Poland earns an average of between 250 and 600 euros a month. In Western Europe he or she can earn 10 times that amount.


Shortages in the UK, Ireland and other countries have led to the active recruitment of Polish doctors.


Working conditions are also often more attractive outside of Poland. The result is that many are opting to move abroad and hospitals in Poland are starting to run short of anesthesiologists, paediatricians, surgeons and specialists.


“A children’s department in one hospital in Poland has been shut down. The hospital had seven to eight doctors working there two years ago but now there are only two. Very soon we’ll hear of another department that has to be closed in Poland,” says Ryszard Kijaks, deputy president of the Polish doctors’ trade union.


One hospital in Lower Silesia, the region where Wroclaw is situated, suspended operations in July because 10 of its 13 anaesthetists walked out in protest at low pay. During their protest a pensioner died in an operation. The local newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza ran a headline that read: “He died because there were not enough anesthesiologists.”


The Polish government is trying to do as much as it can, says Pawel Trzinski, a spokesman for the Minister of Health: “This October we raised wages in the healthcare sector by 30%. Never in the history of Poland was there a rise like that.”


Kijaks says doctors were unimpressed: “Thirty per cent is nothing to us. It means nothing. It’s too small an amount. If they increased salaries by two or three times that would count.”


Digging In


The Poles who have emigrated are starting to put down roots, opening schools and newspapers in the countries where they have settled.


One example is the rural town of Nenagh, in County Tipperary in Ireland. The small town, an hour and half’s drive from Dublin, has had a Polish school since March 2006. The school arose from the iniatives of Polish parents in the town. The local newspaper has started to publish a section in Polish.


There are larger Polish schools in Dublin. A Latvian school has also opened in the Irish capital. The schools hope that teaching expatriate children their native language will keep the link between between the two countries open and facilitate a move home if ever the expat so desires.


As Mayor Dutkiewicz notes, having experienced a vast exodus of the population in the 1980s, the 1990s saw lots of Irish expats return to the island once the Celtic Tiger began to roar. He is hopeful that Poland can emulate this trend in the not-too-distant future.


Between 2007 and 2013, the government in Poland will receive 67 billion euros from the European Union. Most of this is expected to be invested in infrastructure projects. This will in turn lead, it is hoped, to new industries settling in Poland and in turn the creation of new jobs resulting in significant economic development and wealth creation in Poland.


Many Poles living abroad however, say, that the un-bureaucratic British way of life would be hard to leave. More than financial rewards may need to change.

Date created : 2006-12-01