March 15, 2012
Doctors from across Europe are gathering in Athens on Saturday for an emergency meeting amid fears that the Greek health system is going into meltdown.
The hastily-arranged medical summit, called by the Medical Association of Athens, is due to discuss plans for a new European Medical Network through which doctors could support the ailing health service in Greece.
Doctors in Athens say grinding austerity has led to the closure of clinics, increases in infectious diseases, rising drug use, and a chronic shortage of medicines, risking dire long-term consequences for public health. There have been reports of Greek patients pleading with pharmacists for medicines as the pharmaceutical supply chain teeters on the brink of collapse.
European finance ministers this week signed off on a €130 billion package for Greece – the country’s second bailout since 2010 – after the Greek government agreed to further cuts to public spending, and the holders of Greek bonds accepted a deal which will see them lose around 74% of their investments.
This news was broadly welcomed by political leaders and financial markets but doctors say there is little reason to celebrate.
The Medical Association of Athens has had to set up makeshift clinics to care for the growing number of Greeks who can no longer afford health insurance.
The Assocation’s President, Dr George Patoulis, said “drastic legal interventions” have been introduced and he called on the medical profession across Europe to support Greek patients.
“During these difficult days, solidarity on behalf of the European medical community is more than ever of great significance,” he wrote in a letter to the President’s of medical bodies across Europe. (I have a copy but cannot link.)
“Your experience, as a result of evidence based medicine and health policy patterns in your countries, is important for us in order to confront the new healthcare frame.”
The meeting is due to debate strategies for shielding health protection initiatives at a time of deep cutbacks. It will also look at best practice in drug and prescription policies, and the liberalisation of the medical profession.
Dr Patoulis said Greece is offering licenses to “non-doctor entrepreneurs” to run primary care centres as part of its agreement with the EU and IMF to introduce competition to the professions. A similar push to open up the ‘protected professions’ can be found in fine print of the bailout deals agreed by Ireland and Portugal. Italy is also attempting to liberalise its pharmacy sector, despite considerable resistance from pharmacists.
(According to the invitation, the Medical Association of Athens was offering to pay for accommodation and a cultural visit to the Acropolis museum of Athens.)
Copyright Gary Finnegan 2012Author : Gary Finnegan