An award-winning documentary about a hard-working Bulgarian paramedic crew has highlighted problems in the country's chronically underfinanced state emergency care system. The documentary is to be released at home on Friday.
"Sofia's Last Ambulance," which follows the strenuous work of a doctor, nurse and ambulance driver in the Bulgarian capital, fuelled criticism against the sector after winning an award at this year's Cannes Film Festival in May.
Since then, the government has opened up two new emergency response centres in Sofia to speed up ambulance response times to certain neighbourhoods, and two more will open by the end of the year, the health minister said, adding that ambulance crew wages have also gone up by 18 percent this year.
"'Sofia's Last Ambulance' reflects the reality of things," Health Minister Desislava Atanasova said at the film's premiere Monday.
Sofia's 16 ambulance crews serve a population of about two million people and the documentary shows the ordeal of medical workers fighting to save lives with inadequate equipment and rushing patients to the hospital on pot-holed roads.
Despite the reforms, the film's protagonist and doctor Krasimir Yordanov said it was not enough.
"The shortage of medical personnel is what poses the real problem," he told AFP, adding that the new centres have changed nothing in practice.
Low pay in the health sector has driven hundreds of Bulgarian doctors and nurses abroad in recent years, with the association of medical professionals estimating that nurses are leaving at the rate of 1,200 per year.
After 25 years of experience as an ambulance doctor, Yordanov said his monthly salary was "less than the weekly pay of any colleague in other European Union countries".
The documentary, which was directed by Bulgarian Ilian Metev, has also won prizes at film festivals in Italy, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.