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Doctors say health cutbacks turning into human crisis

posted 4 Oct 2012, 05:56 by Mpelembe   [ updated 4 Oct 2012, 05:57 ]

Protesting state doctors walk off the job with nurses saying the health system is in a critical condition due to austerity cuts.

 ATHENSGREECE (OCTOBER 4, 2012) (REUTERS) -  State doctors, nurses and staff walked out of hospitals for four hours on Thursday (October 4) to stage a demonstration in front of the health ministry over the impact of austerity on the health system.

The health sector has been hard hit by austerity measures which began in 2010. Doctors have had their wages and working hours cut. Jobs are being cut due to the merging of hospitals causing a shortage of state doctors. Due to state spending cuts hospitals have also suffered a shortage of medical supplies.

The state health insurance fund does not have enough money to pay pharmacists for medicines or doctors for their services, causing pharmacists to refuse issuing patients free prescriptions and state doctors to refuse conducting patient visits.

Stavros Mouskouvelos, President of the Greek Hospital Doctors Federation, says this will force patients to have to seek private, paid, healthcare, but many cannot afford to pay for it, thus leaving them without medical assistance.

"We ask that they stop these policies and restore full funding to the health system, as well as start hiring again, because due to this crisis patients cannot access private health care, and thus we will end up with a human and social crisis as well," said Mouskouvelos.

"I am so angry, because when I took this job I gave a vow to help people. And I see that neither Europenor the Greek administration has this goal. Our goal is people's lives. We are trying to protect our own lives so we can serve others; if we have difficulties, how can we help other people?", said nurse Zoe Florrou.

It is one of the many protests in Greece in the last weeks as austerity measures have taken their toll on the economy and reduced state spending. Earlier shipyard workers clashed with police at another protest.

The government is in difficult negotiations with the troika - inspectors of the European UnionEuropean Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, over a new package of measures that will further cut wages and pensions. Austerity measures already imposed since 2010, which also cut wages and pensions and reduced jobs, have caused a drop in public consumption, resulting in businesses closing, and employers reducing wages or working hours of employees to cover the drop in profits. Unemployment has risen to more than 23 percent.

"These policies have robbed us of our wages, and it is expected there will be more cuts to wages, pensions and benefits in this package. The troika is pressuring for more cuts and it is expected that civil servants will be fired and it will be easier to fire private sector workers. We are determined to continue our battle with more protests, occupations and strikes," said Grigoris Kalomiris, a representative of ADEDY, the main civil servants umbrella union in Greece, during another protest in the capital by public and private sector unions organized by ADEDY and the main private sector union GSEE outside theLabour Ministry.

After weeks of talks, Athens is still struggling to clinch an agreement on nearly 12 billion euros of cuts with the "troika", who fear some of the proposed savings are not feasible. A government official added that there was also disagreement on how much the economy would shrink next year, which has implications for all of the other targets. But officials said not all hope was lost that the Greek governmentwould resolve issues before next Monday's meeting of eurozone finance ministers, easing Athens's efforts to secure an already delayed 31.5 billion euro tranche of aid needed to avoid bankruptcy.