Bronwen Handyside, vice regional chair, makes an impassioned plea over the health crisis in Greece and outlines our region's response.
London & Eastern region recently invited Greek healthworker Vivi Paschali over from Athens to address a number of our health and public sector committees. We want to form closer organisational ties with Greek workers who are facing a massive social and political crisis caused by the neo-liberal austerity policies imposed by the troika.
Vivi is a healthworker, secretary of Evangelismos, the largest Athens public hospital, and a member of General Council of ADEDY (Greek public sector union federation).
The Greek health service consists of a private and a public health system, both based on insurance. If they don’t have their own, people depend on their employers paying so they can access the public health system. As people lose their jobs, they lose their insurance. If they want to use the public health system, they have to pay fees – five euros for a visit to the doctor. If people have been out of work for 12 months, then they are no longer entitled to any cover. With increased rates of unemployment it is estimated that 1 million people by 2015 will have no access to any health service. 30 thousand Greek workers are losing their jobs every month, and young people are the greatest victims – 61.4% are unemployed.
There is a huge crisis involving, for example, cancer patients who cannot get the drugs they need, and are forced to simply “let nature take its course”. Poor children are without the lifesaving drugs they need.
A recent paper in the British medical magazine “The Lancet” reported that:
• HIV incidence has risen in injecting drug-users more than 10-fold from 2009 to 2012
• Tuberculosis incidence among injecting drug users more than doubled in 2013
• State funding for mental health decreased by 55% between 2011 and 2012
• Major depression increased 2.5-fold between 2008 and 2011
• Suicides increased by 45% between 2007 and 2011
• Infant mortality jumped by 43% between 2008 and 2010
Malaria has reappeared in Greece after being eradicated, and so has leprosy.
The cuts are being made to health services for the working class, alongside a concerted drive for the commercialisation of the health service.
This is fuelling social exclusion and a huge surge in poverty and misery.
Patients wait four hours for x-rays, blood and other tests. The hospitals are grossly understaffed – there are an average 0.61 nurses per bed when the EU average is 2.3. There is only one nurse for 40 patients and many work double shifts for more than 20 days in a row. The average age is high and many suffer from burnout. Some staff have not been paid for a month. The lack of staff for many intensive care units means they cannot accept patients. There are many contract workers and private companies taking over services – there has been 30% privatization. The drive is to convert permanent employed health workers into temporary employees. Work “slavery” is increasing and many are immigrant workers. Private surgeries are opening while hundreds of public health services are closing.
Many public health workers have volunteered to staff free community health clinics, set up to challenge the open barbarism of a system where the rich are happy to watch the working class die from entirely treatable diseases – when the resources exist in the world to treat everyone.
Vivi explained that Greece is the experiment that will spread to the rest of Europe.
She spoke of the necessity for European workers to organise together against the common enemy – the troika consisting of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and European Commission which is forcing the austerity programme on all of us.
Vivi spoke to the conference on the NHS, organized by our region, to the Greenwich local government branch (which voted to twin with a Greek local government branch), to our Public Sector and CYWNFP RISCs. She also attended Bob Crow’s funeral and the UK demonstration marking the UN anti-fascist Day on 22 March.
London & Eastern region plans to further deepen our relationship with our fellow workers in Greece, through reciprocal delegations, and through practical organising together to build a Europe-wide challenge to the troika.