OPINION

Healthcare woes

This country’s health system is like a two-faced Janus. On the one hand it can boast medical personnel of high standard and investments in advanced technology that are on a par with more developed European nations, from the scientific point of view. On the other, there is a lack of nursing staff as well as corruption, bribes to doctors, and waste. Both sides of the coin are revealed either directly or indirectly in a series of interesting statistical surveys by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the National Statistical Service just released by the Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) for the period 1995-2002 in what was then the 15-member European Union. Several myths are debunked, such as that regarding Greeks’ tendency to medicate themselves too freely. For example, we spent 1.6 percent of our GDP in 2002 on medication, the same as the EU average. In absolute amounts, per capita expenditure in Greece amounted to 194 euros, compared to 389 on average in the EU, 404 in Germany and 519 in France. In addition, Greeks have hardly exploited the fact that the Greek state assumes 73.3 percent of total expenditure on pharmaceuticals, compared to the EU average of 66.9 percent. Also unfounded is the claim that the Greek state spends huge amounts on healthcare. In 2002, Greeks spent 9.5 percent of GDP on medications, which is as much as other Europeans (9.1 percent), although with an important distinction: In Greece, the state covered just 52.9 percent of that amount, compared to the EU average of 77.2 percent. This is an enormous difference and unacceptable for a European country with an advanced health system. Greeks thus spend 47.1 percent of total outlay on health out of their own pockets, a percentage closer to the US, where private systems prevail (55.1 percent), than in the EU (where the percentage is 22.8 percent). This shows just how much harm is done by the poor management of the public health system. Given the excellence of medical personnel and the high standard of equipment in state hospitals, it is unforgivable to force people to spend so much for the healthcare they deserve and to which they have a right in a European country in the 21st century. Here lies the heart of the problem that the government must resolve. Only then will it be possible for every citizen of Greece to enjoy the advances that have been made in the areas of medical personnel and technology.