Shortage of medicines and healthcare units, lack of doctors and paramedics in hospitals, inadequate surgical equipment. Even Greece’s healthcare system is paying the price of the national crisis – which over the past seven years underwent increasing cuts – along with citizens who have lost their jobs and healthcare insurance cover. An estimated 2.5 million Greek citizens are left without health insurance.
Greek doctors, economic migrants. The picture presented by Nikolaos Platanisiotis, President of the Piraeus Medical Association, one of the largest and most important medical associations in Greece, counting 4000 doctors operating in public and private healthcare structures, is disheartening.
“Seven years ago, before the crisis, we had 4500 registered members”, he told SIR.
Five-hundred doctors emigrated abroad for economic reasons: to England, Great Britain and Germany.”
But the figures at national level are much higher, amounting to several thousand. One doctor every 10 is an economic migrant. This flight can be explained with “the 50% cut in the wages of doctors working in the public health sector. The same thing happened to doctors in private healthcare. People cannot afford medical treatment, so they go to the doctor only when it is strictly necessary.” “We have reduced by 30% the required contributions of our registered members who are in state of need – said Platanisiotis, who is also the Director of Public and Social Health Services of the Municipality of Piraeus -. In addition, as an association, we made agreements with private healthcare facilities to relocate doctors left unemployed whenever there are new employment opportunities.”
Competence and dedication to fight the crisis. The situation is no better in public hospitals. “There is shortage of staff, medicines and diagnostic equipment. In the past it also happened that many hospitals were left without food and medicines for hospitalized patients, purchased by their relatives to ensure the treatments they needed. In other cases, surgery had to be postponed for lack of medical instruments.” Greek doctors, paramedics and pharmacists respond to the cuts in healthcare spending with “competence, dedication, sacrifice and volunteering work”, another way to honour the Hippocratic Oath.
Increasing numbers of doctors, pharmacists and healthcare workers devote their free time to visiting patients in economic difficulties hospitalized in Greece’s “social clinics”. In order to ensure adequate treatment to all citizens, the clinics provide medical examinations at symbolical prices, “blood tests are offered at the cost of 2 Euros, chest X-rays at 4 Euros, while a full medical examination in the physician’s office costs 10 Euros.”
“Ours is not a job. It’s a mission”, Platanisiotis pointed out. His association donated medical kits and medicines to Piraeus Firemen to be used in rescue operations and within their units, in case of emergency.
Such commitment is not only directed at Greek citizens but also at the immigrants landed on the Piraeus shores in 2016. “Six thousand migrants – from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Bangladesh, arrived in February last year. We set up a reception centre in the port, where we carried out medical examinations to over 4000 men, women, children and old people, identifying risks of malaria and tuberculosis, as confirmed by data released by the World Heath Organization for citizens from the above-mentioned countries. We reported the incident to the competent Ministry, but received no reply.”
The crisis disease. The crisis has impacted not only healthcare structures but also Greek citizens, who have been developing the symptoms of diseases strictly linked to their condition of difficulty and economic deprivation.
“If we were to identify a pathology directly connected with the ongoing crisis it would be depression”
said Kouvaris Costantinos, President of the Order of Pharmacists of the Piraeus, among the most important Orders in Greece, with 500 members. “The population is under intense psychological pressure, as confirmed by the rise in the use of psychotropic drugs, antidepressants and painkillers.” At the same time, the Pharmacists President added, “suicide rates are increasing”, 6000 suicides have occurred in the last years of economic crisis, which also caused the onset of another phenomenon.
“It’s the so-called self-therapy. People purchase medicines without medical examinations or prescriptions, also through the Internet. Unfortunately, in many cases the intake of these do-it-yourself medications has side-effects that require medical intervention or by a pharmacist, in some cases patients require hospitalization. Such behaviours are a result of the economic crisis, and they must be avoided.”
Future prospects seem equally gloomy. “Cuts in health expenditure do nothing but lower the quality of services offered to citizens. If this trend persists – Costantinos denounced – 40% of Greek pharmacies are likely to close down in the coming years, amounting to 10,000 today.” Platanisiotis shared the same views: “We see no light at the end of the tunnel. Providing respite to the healthcare system implies its digitalization, which would optimize resources and create savings, coupled by cooperation between the public and private sectors. But to date there is no sign of healthcare investments that would ensure adequate treatment and services for the population at large.”