Firms that supply state hospitals with medical equipment yesterday began five-day rolling work stoppages in protest at what they say is the government’s failure to settle the massive debts they are owed by the public sector. The Association of Greek Science and Health Suppliers (SEP) contradicted the government’s suggestions that its dispute with the firms, which led to a number of hospitals running short of supplies, had been settled. According to SEP’s president, Panayiotis Stravolaimos, the government has only proposed so far how to settle 35 percent of the money that the suppliers are owed and even the method it has suggested has met with the association’s disapproval. Stravolaimos said the government had suggested that the firms could obtain this money by taking out a loan with Hellenic Postbank, which the state would then repay. There have only been preliminary discussions so far on how the remaining 65 percent will be paid and suppliers are concerned that the government will allow debts to build up again this year. «We do not know if our invoices will be paid because, according to the new law, tenders should have been held and an approved list of medical products and suppliers compiled but this has not happened,» said Stravolaimos. Last November, some suppliers refused to provide any more goods to hospitals and began to remove their equipment in a bid to force the government to pay them. State hospitals owe more than 4 billion euros. This prompted an immediate response from the government but an initial agreement appears to have collapsed in recent weeks, leaving state hospitals facing the possibility of severe shortages.