Improvements to the Greek Public Health System: The Government’s Untrue and Dangerous Story

16 November 2017 Helliniko

Improvements to the Greek Public Health System: The Government’s Untrue and Dangerous Story

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels invited MCCH to present a report on its six years of experience and the tragic effects of austerity in Greece on public health.  The EESC wants to document the results on the health system of three countries that instituted austerity measures, to avoid future “mistakes”.

Of course this is not the first time we have been called on to participate in discussions in Belgium as wall as other European cities.  And we have had many many discussions, attended meetings and had visits to MCCH to explore the issues.  There was always a clear impression that these austerity policies in the field of healthcare have had inhuman results.  Now we are surprised to learn that there is a false impression that things have “improved” in Greece.  The view is being cultivated that the country is improving and the results of austerity are beginning to give way, even in health care.  The confusion is coming from the government story line that asserts that even with the countries financial commitments, it can provide for health care.  As evidence for this, they refer to the access of uninsured patients to the Primary Health Care System and that hospitals operate regularly with no deficiencies, as they had in the past.  But this doesn’t cite official data (the ratio of patient to hospital staff, etc) and doesn’t reflect a clear deterioration in mortality rates – including infant mortality.

This sermon that the government is preaching has two characteristics that make it untrue and especially dangerous.

Access of the uninsured, yes – but funding for it, no.

Access has indeed been given to uninsured patients for diagnostic exams and hospitalization.  Access to consultations with physicians and to medicine by official prescription was given in 2014.  But there has been no corresponding funding!  The state primary health care provider has not been given funding, either for hospitalization, or diagnostic tests.  Budgets continue to shrink.  The official announcement from the Greek Economic Ministry is that in the 2017 budget, the expenses for hospital and primary health care has been reduced by 200 million Euro as compared to 2016.  So how do hospitals cover the extra expense?

Draw your own conclusions!  The public hospitals – especially the larger ones – had spent their budgets by September.  A few days ago, “Attiko” and “Laiko” public hospitals had no chemotherapy medicines whatsoever for their scheduled therapies for cancer patients.  Our clinic together with the Association of Cancer Patients and Doctors of Athens (KEFI) donated a large amount of these medicines to cover immediate needs.  Generally there are major shortages.  Programmed surgeries and procedures such as angioplasties and pacemakers have been postponed until the beginning of 2018 so as to come under the new budget cycle.

The second memorandum agreement mentioned access of the uninsured to public health, but not one word about a budget increase.  Access to hospitalization with continued budget cutting means fundamentally that there is crippled access to the system for those who need it.

Primary Health Care European programs with an expiry date

Another untruth.  The “reform” of the primary health care system doesn’t convince the medical personnel of the country to support it.  The local health centers have received application for only 50% of the positions available.  And that is because they are supported economically by a European program for two years, – up to a maximum of four years.  After that, what follows?  Is it possible to plan a primary health care system without a health map and without long term planning of its funding?

Besides being untrue, this narrative of the government is dangerous.  Why? Because it creates confusion and makes it look like the Greek health picture is much rosier than it is.

It’s dangerous because it makes it appear that austerity policies and laws were a good thing.  As if the increased mortality rates since 2011 never happened.  Especially infant mortality rising from 4.0 per 1000 births to 4.2 in one year – 2015-1016.

How can a government state that it is meeting its commitments and obligations to health care in spite of slashed budgets?  Our lenders can then say to us, “Very well, since you are managing with austerity, we can continue with the austerity.”

The Greek Public Health System will not be “resurrected” with spending cuts

Austerity kills – that has become blindingly evident.  With continued cuts to expenses, expecting the restoration of regular hospital operation is wishful thinking.  And designing a reliable, worthwhile primary health care system with continue budget slashes is just plain delusional.  Larger deficits and increased deaths will be the result.

The government’s message of “despite austerity, we are managing” is false and dangerous.  The policies that led us to a failed and bankrupt political system led us into this crisis.  And we’re still there.

The true story is that our financial commitments leave very little room for improvements to the health system.  Improvements in ideas are dropped into an ocean of under-funding.  Microbe sized improvements are not about to heal the heavily injured health system in Greece.

(This Press release is based largly on an article written by our volunteer Dr. George Vichas (in Greek)βελτιώνεταιηκατάστασηστην-yγείαένα/ )

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