Bribes, no beds give health sector bad name

There is not one Greek who has not experienced firsthand the state of affairs in public hospitals: Queues for examinations and operations, hospital beds in corridors, staff shortages and under-the-table payments all form a picture that is not befitting for a European country with ambitions for development. A five-month wait for a mammograph at a public hospital is routine, while even cancer patients have to stand in line for radiotherapy. Long waits for examinations and patients left on hospital beds parked in corridors at duty hospitals are yet more reasons behind Greeks’ unhappiness with the state health service. The lack of proper primary healthcare, which could reduce the number of people flocking to state hospitals with minor problems, is a major cause. Another serious problem preventing the proper functioning of hospitals is the serious lack of nursing and medical staff. The former affects hospitals around the country, while the latter affects hospitals in the provinces. According to the Greek Federation of Hospital Workers, one in three permanent positions are unfilled, while the Association of Hospital Doctors in Athens and Piraeus talks of 3,000 permanent positions for doctors that remain empty. But the real staff shortage is much greater, due to the addition of new departments in hospitals, the population increase and advances in medical science. The result is that numerous departments in hospitals, especially in the provinces, are functioning at an unacceptably low standard or not at all. Patients are thus forced to visit hospitals in the large urban centers, which are buckling under the sheer weight of numbers. Under-the-table payments, whether demanded by doctors or offered by patients, is common practice at state hospitals for Greek patients, who, naturally enough, want to be dealt with rapidly. At the same time, it’s a bomb in the foundations of free healthcare. Private health spending in Greece constitutes 44 percent of total expenditure on health and the bulk of that comes straight out of Greek citizens’ pockets. According to data from family budget research, average monthly private spending by a household on health comes to 94 euros (current prices). Of this, 15 percent is spent on medicines, 24 percent on doctors’ services, 32 percent on dentists and 12 percent on hospital care. Finally, despite the much-vaunted 4.8 percent of GDP that is spent on health, National Health System (ESY) doctors and workers say it’s simply not enough. Starved of cash, hospitals undertake cuts in duty hospital programs and are unable to upgrade medical equipment. Kathimerini asked representatives of the two main parties, Health Minister Costas Stefanis (of PASOK) and New Democracy social issues rapporteur Nikitas Kaklamanis, how these major problems could be solved.