Berlin: Thousands of German doctors demonstrate against bureaucracy, poor pay

Thousands of doctors marched through the German capital on Wednesday to demand changes to the state health care system, including better pay and less bureaucracy.

Doctors are calling for better pay in hospitals and private practices, as well as an easing of the paperwork they claim is cutting into time that could better be spent caring for patients.

Thousands of doctors, some in their white hospital coats, others wrapped in thick jackets amid steady snowfall, marched from a Berlin hotel to a Health Ministry building, carrying banners with slogans including "Money gone, doctor gone" and calling for Health Minister Ulla Schmidt to resign.

Organizers said some 20,000 people took part in protests across the country, including 14,000 in Berlin, and estimated that about half of Germany's 100,000 medical practices would be closed for the day.

The demonstrations were part of a weeklong protest that has seen doctors close their practices across the country to participate in smaller rallies.

Health Minister Schmidt expressed understanding for doctors' complaints, but argued that the government was not at the root of problems in a health system struggling under an aging population and rising costs.

The left-right coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to agree on how to reform Germany's state health insurance system, the AP reported.

Merkel's conservatives and Schmidt's Social Democrats campaigned for diametrically opposed health reform plans before the election and, in coalition talks, agreed only to revisit the issue at some point this year.

A.M.