Doctors and other staff at public hospitals across Greece have intensified protests against a bill proposed by the conservative New Democracy (ND)-led government to abolish full-time exclusive employment of doctors in public hospitals. Unions, including the Federation of Hospital Doctors of Greece (OENGE) and the Panhellenic Federation of Public Hospital Workers (POEDIN), went for strikes on November 28 and 29 and organized a protest demonstration in front of the Greek parliament and the Ministry of Health.
A march to the parliament with the demand of the withdrawal of the bill has been scheduled for December 1. Health workers claim that the bill will adversely impact the already battered workforce in hospitals and force them to shift to the private sector. Trade unions like the All Workers Militant Front (PAME), the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), and the Federation of Women of Greece (OGE), among others, extended their support to the protesting doctors and health workers.
According to reports, the proposed bill intends to abolish full-time exclusive employment of doctors in the National Healthcare Service (NHS) and promotes casualized employment relationships, forcing NHS doctors to seek employment and income from the private sector. Doctors claim that the bill will destabilize NHS services as it further weakens the workforce, and will inflict more distress on patients as waiting lists for consultations and surgeries become lengthier and more and more people are forced to opt for expensive medical care in the private sector.
The Ministry of Health is trying to justify the bill by claiming that very few doctors are responding to advertisements for vacancies for permanent doctors in public hospitals.
According to PAME, “the abolition of exclusive employment for NHS doctors is not a measure that mainly concerns doctors but the people. Officially, all patients will now become prey to the large private groups.”
“This is the result of the long-term aim to reduce the operating costs of public health units and the strengthening of their commercial operation with afternoon clinics and afternoon surgeries in which patients will pay handsomely. The ‘fiscal derailment’ is invoked to hide the crazy trajectory of the profits of business groups.”
In its petition demanding the withdrawal of the bill, OENGE claimed that “through the bill the government is trying to introduce part-time doctors, they are giving NHS doctors the opportunity to carry out private work, they are consolidating the huge gaps and endless waiting lists, they are abolishing any notion of working hours and working rights. We cannot tolerate it!”
“The solution to our stagnant salaries is not to go out into the health market to find a clientele. It is not a solution to run from the morning hours to afternoon clinics and afternoon surgeries and from the on-call to the private clinics, without rest, without free time, at the expense of the health and life of both ourselves and our patients. It is not a solution for the patient to pay handsomely so that they can ‘overcome’ the endless lists of surgeries and speed up their treatment. Any honest doctor who wants to combine contribution to society and science with working conditions and human salaries must be the first to oppose this bill.”
Trade unions and left-wing political parties also condemned the deployment of riot police to block the doctors’ protest at the Ministry of Health on Tuesday.