On last May 20, thousands of doctors, nurses and ambulance staff from Greece’s state-run hospitals and health centers began a 24-hour strike to protest the lack of staff and funding.
The state of public health in the country is on the verge of collapse. The Federation of Public Hospital Employees (POEDIN) said Greece’s National Health Service is “out of control due to underfunding and understaffing” and that Syriza-led government’s ongoing negotiations with its international creditors are not creating “the requirements to solve accumulated problems and the situation is heading to a non-manageable level.” Actually, three million Greeks, around a quarter of the population, have no health insurance and no right to receive state-funded health care.
According to a statement released by the Federation of Unions of Hospital Doctors, the union requests an increase in hospital funding to €2 billion a year from the current level of €1.4 billion “to solve the problem of lack of materials and medicine.”
According to some strikers, as Apostolis, an ambulance attendant, “the lack of funding brings serious consequences for the operational capacity of ambulances and health of patients. We can’t assist people because the ambulances have breakdowns and there are no spare parts.” For Jrisula, a stretcher-bearer, “we need funding to stop having patients on stretchers in hospital corridors. In addition, we’re not being paid overtime since January.”
A protest outside the Ministry of Health in Athens was organized for 12:30pm. Some 500 striking medical workers, supported by pensioners protesting cuts to social security and health care, took part. After it, the workers began a march to the Parliament and the government headquarters. However, having come to Parliament, riot police forces prevented them from continuing their march to the headquarters of the Executive.
The extreme decline of Greek public health hasn’t started under Tsipras office; it’s the result of years of austerity plans and divestment by previous governments, caused by the cost of the permanence of Greece in the European Union and the euro area.
But the government of Alexis Tsipras, instead of giving a U-turn on the previous policy (which was a very heartfelt aspiration of both the Greek people and hospitals workers) has aggravated the situation.
For example, with the recent austerity Bill passed in the Parliament by which all state agencies (from municipalities to hospitals) are required to make available their cash reserves. This means that hospitals no longer have funds to meet even the minimum daily expenses. Needless to say, then, to solve the deeper, structural problems of public health. It was this law that triggered the strike.
That Act is aimed at ensuring funds to pay back the more than €300 billion in debt owed by the Greek state to the IMF, the ECB, and other creditors. In the last four months alone it has paid back more than €13 billion—several billion euros more than Greece’s entire annual public health service budget! It’s the result of the capitulation to the demands of the troika and, at the same time, a betrayal of the aspirations for which the Greek people voted for Syriza.
Given this situation, we support the strike by hospital workers, as a first step of the workers and masses independent mobilization. We reaffirm that the immediate task in Greece is to organize the working class and people opposition to face the government. This is the only possibility of building a political alternative directed towards a real workers and people government, based on their democratic organizations to break with the EU and the euro, towards socialism.