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As the Condem coalition plans to privatise the NHS passed through the House of Commons yesterday – SchNEWS thought it would be timely to look a radically different take on public provision of healthcare.
One hospital in Greece has been taken under direct worker's control. Responding to the regime's austerity measures doctors nurses and other staff, numbering around 600 seized control of the hospital, in Kilkis, Macedonia ( a town of around17,000 population) on February 20th, planning to make all decisions by a ‘workers general assembly’.
Clause 5 of their initial statement/manifesto reads “The workers at the General Hospital of Kilkis answer to this totalitarianism with democracy. We occupy the public hospital and put it under our direct and absolute control. The hospital of Kilkis will henceforth be self-governed and the only legitimate means of administrative decision making will be the General Assembly of its workers.” The full statement can be read here.
SchNEWS spoke to Leta Zotaki, the president of the Union of hospital doctors in Kilkis ENIK.
“The workers decided that the ones in charge had no idea how to run the institution. It was up to the doctors and the nurses, the ones that knew the health care system inside out”.
The health care system in Greece has deteriorated greatly in recent times. “What we had and what we lost, in the 80's we managed to get free healthcare, now to see a doctor and get a consultation you must pay a fee of 10-15 euro and that does not include a treatment. You need 900 euro to give birth or they send you home, if you have a motor accident you have to pay 7000-9000 euro to get seen -Now if you consider that 30% of the population are unemployed, how can people pay for this?”. The recent savage cuts in public sector funding include a 40% budget reduction for hospitals. Greece has begun to see an alarming rise in communicable diseases such as TB and HIV as the cuts bite.
“As things stood by late November no wages had been paid to any of the hospital employees. We didn't have anything in the way of resources. There wasn't sufficient capital in the system any more to even support a blood transfusion, let alone save a life. In one incident a fellow employee at the cardiology department went in shock when he realised that his monthly check of 800 euros had become a note saying that he would be paid nothing that month and if that wasn't heart wrenching enough he was obliged to pay 170 euros back. Other workers were paid 4 euros for the whole month! Those that still receive some kind of salary plan to support them in any way we can. We the employees of the hospital were overworked, understaffed, underpaid; we were too tired to operate properly. Within the health care system one mistake does not mean, come back and try again tomorrow, it is a case of life and death”.
Following the bite of yet another troika recovery package that was finalised in early February the government decided to close half the hospitals. This was what galvanised the healthcare staff into action. They decided to occupy the premises and do it like it should be done. With the patient in mind not the EU.
With the hospital occupied they started treating people for free. They offer only emergency services due to the limitations they are faced with in the way of resources and complete lack of wages. They are once again providing people with free healthcare. They also wanted to stop hospital workers from losing their jobs. Across all public sectors in Greece 150,000 people are being laid off. “The hospital workers do not recognise Government as a legal institution anymore”. As public workers they have decided they are a legal entity and have the right to exist.
“The government is trying to brainwash Greek citizens into believing that they have no other options than to pay the troika.” [saying] “whatever we make must go to pay off the debt. There is no equipment and medicine left in the hospital, doctors and nurses are not being paid yet the priority is to pay off the debt!”
“It should be wages and pensions first and then debt payments rather than the other way round when there are people out in the streets dying. People in Greece are scared of all that has been happening. They do not understand how bad the situation is, how few raw materials are left.” The situation according to Leta is “worse than during times of war, there is nothing left”.
As we go to print the workers are still running the place - issuing a defiant statement they said “ We have no intention to paint the reality with dark colors, but this is the truth. This situation is not due to a financial or monetary accident or mistake. It is the start of the ugly phase of a long process following a carefully designed plan, a process that has started decades ago! We have to fight together against this neoliberal plan. And this is what we, in Kilkis and in so many cities around the world, do now. “
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