More patients turning to state hospitals

The number of Greeks seeking free or subsidized treatment in the National Health System has risen by some 30 percent since the country?s economic crisis began, according to figures made public on Wednesday by the Health Ministry.

Between January and August this year, an average of 189,537 people visited public hospitals for treatment each month, a rise of 8 percent, or 14,000 patients a month, compared to 2010. But the increase compared to 2009, when Greece?s debt problems first emerged was even greater.

Surgeries are also up by 6 percent. Some 38,000 operations are being carried out each month at state hospitals. Health centers, usually located outside major cities, have seen their patient numbers increase by some 750,000 since last year.

Experts believe that the rise in the number of people using public health facilities, for which either they do not have to pay or whose cost is covered at least in part by their social security fund, is mainly down to the crisis. Greeks who have either lost their jobs or seen their incomes slashed are ditching their private insurance policies and treatment at private hospitals, it appears.

?The number of people using state hospitals is rising all the time,? the head of the Athens-Piraeus hospital doctors? union, Stavros Tsoukalos, told Kathimerini. ?The general view is that the number of Greeks, rather than immigrants, has increased because they have seen their wages reduced and have been forced to change their healthcare practices.?

The increase in the number of patient numbers comes as the government has reduced spending on public healthcare, merged hospitals to save money and is set to rent rooms at state hospitals to private insurance firms to raise revenues.

?This is why government officials have to be aware that the National Health System will not survive if the cuts continue,? said Tsoukalos.