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Croatia merges hospitals, cuts beds in healthcare masterplan

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia, struggling to reduce a shortfall in its public finances, plans to merge two-thirds of state-run hospitals and cut the number of beds by 2017 in an effort to put its ailing health sector on a solid footing.

The plan should help save 400 million kuna ($72.74 million) over the next three years, Health Minister Rajko Ostojic said Tuesday while presenting the document.

"We are 20 years late with this plan," Ostojic said.

Under the plan, 21 out of Croatia's 31 hospitals would be merged while the overall number of hospital beds would be reduced to around 16,000 from the current 18,600.

Many local politicians from counties where hospitals would be merged have announced suits to halt the plan, claiming it would reduce the quality of public health.

Ostojic said healthcare would function better and be more rational.

"The patient is our aim and our key," he said. "I am convinced the county prefects will eventually see that this is better and will give up their suits".

Croatia's public health has struggled with a lack of funds for years and the government overhauled it several times in the last decade by pumping in billions of kuna from the budget.

Most hospitals generate losses and struggle to pay for drugs from suppliers.

Under the latest overhaul, which parliament should approve this week as part of a budget revision, the government will give 3.2 billion kuna to the health sector,

Croatia, which joined the European Union last July, has been in recession since 2008 and unemployment has reached a 12-year high of 22 percent. Of the total population of 4.4 million, barely one quarter are employed and there are more than one million pensioners.

Its budget gap is planned at 4.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for this year and the European Commission requires from Croatia to reduce it to below three percent of GDP by the end of 2016.

(Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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