Fidesz delegates elected Damjan Polh, an anesthesiologist from the Izola hospital, as the new president of the union. He will replace the current president, Konrad Kuštrin, who led Fides for almost 30 years.
Damjan Polh finished his studies at the Ljubljana Medical Faculty in 1982. Between 1983 and 1984, he completed an internship and was employed in General Hospital (SB) Izola, where he began his specialization in anesthesiology and reanimation. He passed the specialist exam in 1990. In the same year, he became the head of the department of anesthesiology and intensive therapy at SB Izola and successfully led the department for 11 years.
To the work of the Union of Doctors and Dentists (Fides) joined in 1996 as a member of the main board. A few years later, he became the vice-president of the union and has been the president’s right-hand man to this day Konrad Kuštrin.
Polh: Big shoes of the former president
After his election, Polh told the Slovenian Press Agency and Radio Slovenija that his election means a big challenge, a big task and hard work.. “It is impossible to put yourself in the shoes of the former president,” he said, adding that he will do his best to make the transfer of office as painless as possible, that his colleagues will not feel him so much, and that Fides will again be what it was with Kuštrin.
He emphasized that the union is currently focused on the salary system, as negotiations are underway on a new salary pillar for healthcare. According to him, in order to curb the departure of doctors abroad and preserve public health care, it is necessary to regulate salaries in health care, as well as working conditions.
At the same time, he said that until the end of the current cycle of negotiations, he has no intention of changing the negotiating group, which is led by the vice president of the union Gregor Zemlić. Polh assessed Zemljič’s work, which he took over from Kuštrin last October, as excellent.
Polh hopes that they will be successful in the negotiations in the union, and according to him, two agreements signed with the government side after Kuštrin withdrew from the negotiation process also support Fides and are a good basis for negotiations.
In the agreement signed in January, the government undertook to create a separate salary pillar only for doctors, in the event that the contents of the new health pillar were not sent for public consideration by April 1 and submitted to the legislative process by June 30, and implemented by 1 January 2024.
“Honestly, if there’s a will on both sides, it can be completed in a few days,” emphasized Polh. As he explained, both sides are more ready for a joint agreement and concrete agreement when “water runs down the throat”. Despite the fact that there is not much time until April 1, he himself remains an optimist.
Kuštrin: He will need help, I need it myself
Polh replaced Kuštrin at the head of the trade union, who had presided over Fides for seven consecutive terms since 1994, which is why today he received the highest recognition for his life’s work – he was named an honorary member of Fides.
Kuštrin emphasized for STA and Radio Slovenija that he and Polh have been colleagues for almost the entire term of Kuštrin’s mandate. “Just as he helped me as vice-president, I will certainly be happy to help him if he feels the need or desire for some advice. And he will certainly need help, I needed it too,” he emphasized.
When asked what the current situation is in Slovenian health care, he replied that even 10 years ago he could not have imagined that “we’ll fall so low”. He emphasized that it is time for the government, the Parliament and the Ministry of Health to do their job.
“With these incredibly fast changes of governments, not to mention ministers, almost all of whom I can’t remember, there is no continuity. Every team starts over and you often see that they don’t really know where to start and how to go about things,” he warned.
Three conclusions of the annual conference
The annual conference, where the new leadership was elected, is otherwise the highest body of Fides, consisting of delegates. This time, they adopted three decisions, which were also forwarded to the Ministry of Health. Among other things, they demand the realization of the signed agreements on the temporary suspension of strike activities from October and January on the creation of a separate wage pillar in health care, or separate pay column for doctors.
At the same time, the main committee was instructed to monitor the realization of the conference’s decision and to continue the strike in accordance with the October agreement in case of violation of the government’s commitments from the agreements.
The last extraordinary annual conference was convened in September last year, when the union, with more than 3,500 member signatures, demanded an exit from the single salary system in the public sector and also adopted a decision on a general strike of doctors and dentists.