Our health system is the touchstone

By Nikos Konstandaras

Beyond the drama of negotiations between our government coalition partners, and between the government and the troika, our health system shows how difficult our passage to the new era is. There we see chronic problems worsening, as well as new, explosive dimensions to what we must face.

The establishment of the National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY), which is aimed at bringing together all of Greece?s many health funds, was a positive step toward achieving equality among citizens and providing more effective services. Unfortunately, the fund?s budget for primary healthcare was set at 350 million euros, rather than the 1 billion that the four funds which constitute it spent in 2011. That figure has since been cut to 270 million, with the result that EOPYY has been unable to pay doctors, pharmacists, suppliers and private healthcare providers. The burden has been left to citizens, who again have to make greater sacrifices for fewer benefits.

Less known than EOPYY?s dispute with doctors and pharmacists is the issue of nonpayment to 160 private clinics. The state owes them 800 million euros for services rendered from 2007 to 2011 and it has not paid them since May. This threatens the existence of a sector which provides 15,000 beds, or a third of the total in Greece, and highly specialized services. It provides 25,000 jobs. The struggling public health sector will be unable to fill the void if private clinics collapse.

In the psychiatric sector, private clinics in Athens provide 1,800 beds, while there are another 3,000 in the rest of Greece. If the clinics are forced to suspend services on credit (as they are expected to announce on October 8), and send their patients to public services, we will see the human cost of our society?s violent adjustment to its new economic circumstances. On September 18, EOPYY requested lists of patients in psychiatric clinics, meaning that it is following the issue. It is difficult to understand, though, how the organization will be able to fill the vacuum if it does not pay the clinics, or at least offset what it owes them with what they must pay in terms of taxes etc.

When the US authorities discharged thousands of psychiatric hospital patients in the 60s, disturbed and homeless people roamed the streets. But, when Margaret Thatcher closed a number of psychiatric hospitals in the UK, very few patients ended up in the streets because they were provided with services in new, smaller units (at much the same cost).

In Greece, where we have no plan beyond spending cuts, what kind of society will we have in a few weeks?