In crisis, Greece strives to consolidate medical care


Two recent reports identified problems in the Greek health system.

By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 03/04/14


The government cut Greece's public hospital budget by 25 percent between 2009 and 2011. [AFP]

Greece's health ministry is merging clinics and creating a new primary national healthcare network in an effort to make the system more efficient amid reduced government spending brought about by austerity measures.

Three million Greeks do not have health insurance and rely on free clinics for care.

The authorities closed the clinics for a month to improve how they operate, but the move set off strikes by doctors and invited public criticism that Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis is oblivious to the welfare of the uninsured.

Georgiadis imposed controversial measures, including charging a 5 euro admission fee to state hospitals and changing the pricing of drugs, saying it resulted in lower costs to patients and the state. He also said that in order to shorten waiting lists, doctors will soon conduct surgeries for a fee, a portion of which will go to the hospitals' budget.

The government is correct to consolidate clinics and make the system more cost-efficient, said Antonis Klapsis, head of research at the Konstantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens.

"Huge amounts of money have been wasted in the last decades on unnecessary medicine, overpriced equipment, and under-the-table payments. What Georgiadis is trying to do is to put an end to the chaos," Klapsis told SETimes.

But there has been resistance. An earlier proposal to make the hospital admission fee 25 euros was withdrawn, and doctors last month occupied clinics in protest. Some have heckled and jostled Georgiadis during hospital visits.

The medical system is in need of reform, according to recently published reports by University of Cambridge and the Athens branch of Doctors of the World.

Public spending on pharmaceuticals more than halved, making some medications unobtainable, the University of Cambridge report said.

About 2,300 people lose access to healthcare each day, said Anna Mailli, head of the Doctors of the World's Athens branch.

"The bureaucracy is so inefficient that even basic care cannot be provided in some instances," Mailli told SETimes.

It would take years to measure the consequences of lack of regular health care, particularly in people with chronic conditions like heart disease, said Alexander Kentikelenis, the University of Cambridge report's lead author.

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"Stillbirths increased 21 percent since the economic crisis began four years ago while infant mortality increased more than 40 percent between 2008 and 2010," Kentikelenis said.

People are not visiting doctors because the public health sector is not functioning, or because they do not have money to visit private doctors, or both, according to Alexandros Sakellariou, a sociologist at Panteion University in Athens.

"The most serious problem is not the doctors, who are highly qualified, but the lack of funding for materials that hospitals and doctors need," Sakellariou told SETimes.

What can Greek authorities do to improve healthcare? Share your opinion in the comments space.

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