Patients caught in the maelstrom of healthcare reform

Hundreds of cancer patients in Greece are having trouble finding lifesaving drugs as hospital dispensaries are limiting their purchases of expensive medicines and state doctors are hesitating to prescribe them.

Cost-cutting in the healthcare sector and measures to stop doctors overprescribing drugs have led to cancer sufferers being shuttled back and forth between their healthcare providers and the hospitals treating them, as doctors on both sides are wary of prescribing medicines that can cost several hundred euros a month.

The head of the Attica Pharmacists? Association, moreover, told Kathimerini on Wednesday that private pharmacies cannot handle the cost of keeping expensive cancer medication in stock.

Constantinos Lourantos said that he recently requested a delivery of a specific cancer medication for a customer, but the supplier demanded a 4,000-euro down payment for four boxes of the drug. ?The pharmacy?s profit on this order would have been 120 euros and the tax 500 euros,? he said.

Meanwhile, diagnostic technicians on Wednesday joined the Attica and Piraeus pharmacists? embargo of social security foundations that have failed to pay their debts, refusing service without payment from the patient.

Medical laboratory technicians say that they are owed around 1.4 billion euros by the country?s social security foundations in contributions for diagnostic tests.

Pharmacies in Attica and Piraeus will also stage a 24-hour strike on Thursday in protest at unpaid bills from healthcare providers, some of which, their unions say, date as far back as 2009. The National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY) alone allegedly owes pharmacists 130 million euros.

Pharmacists on Wednesday said that they will be holding a protest rally in front of EOPYY?s headquarters on Kifissias Avenue in Maroussi at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

Also on Wednesday, workers at private hospitals and clinics stormed the headquarters of the Health Ministry in central Athens in protest at old debts owed to them by the healthcare providers that have now come under EOPYY?s umbrella.

The Health Ministry pledged that it would pay private clinics 36 million euros next week to cover care costs for the month of January.