Greece Hospital Workers Union Says Austerity Was Devastating

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Tatiana Bollari, FILE)

ATHENS – More than eight years of austerity, continued by the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – who promised to stop them – has nearly crippled parts of Greece’s health care sector and left facilities without needed equipment and supplies, the union of public hospital workers POEDIN said.

The number of permanent workers at the facilities has been cut by some 25,000 since 2010 and the union said the government, which includes the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independet Greeks (ANEL) has cut state funding for hospitals by nearly 50 percent since taking power in 2015, providing 786 million euros ($911.09 million) this year compared to 1.5 billion euros ($1.74 billion) in 2015 when it took power.

Half of the equipment in state hospitals has exceeded its life expectancy, the union added, along with critical shortages on islands, including Ithaca, where Tsipras went on Aug. 21 to declare the end of three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($377.88 billion) ended.

On Ithaca, the union said, the health center has only six doctors, three of whom will retire this year and with shortages even on major tourist islands such as Santorini.

Greek health authorities, who have benefited from major donations by Diaspora groups and foundations, are now working with the World Health Organization (WHO) as well to find some way to improve health care and hospitals, many of which don’t have toilet seats, toilet paper, paper towels, soap and where many patients need to hire private nurses to insure good care.

In June, WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and the WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, came to open a branch office in Athens.

A year ago, during a meeting of the WHO European Region governing body in Budapest, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that, “people need a global understanding that protecting human dignity and health is not a privilege or a luxury,” without referring to cuts for hospitals his Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition has imposed, leaving some facilities without even toilet paper.

At the time, he met the Ghebreyesus and Jakab and invited them to Greece to officially launch the WHO Country Office and discuss future collaboration without saying what the group’s role would be.

“The establishment of the WHO Country Office in Greece strengthens significantly the country’s efforts towards universal health coverage and a sustainable and effective health system. This did not happen by chance – it is the result of a whole-of-government strong political commitment to upgrade our country’s cooperation with WHO,” Greek Health Minister Andreas Xanthos said.

His ministry will work with the WHO office on national health priorities. I am delighted to be here to open this new country office, and to work with all our partners in Greece to ensure that everyone here gets the health services they need, when and where they need them, without facing financial hardship,” Ghebreyesus said.

Almost 100 new primary health units have been were established since December 2017, aiming to cover the whole population in a few years, the government said, although the sector overall has been nearly devastated, the workers union said, demanding that conditions be improved and more money provided.