“No” to the privatisation of Madrid’s hospitals

Last week, on 22 September, almost 50,000 people demonstrated in the centre of Madrid to demand public, free and universal healthcare in Spain.

This was the eleventh “white tide” – a march made up of associations of professional healthcare workers, neighbourhood associations and trade unions which takes place on the third Sunday of each month.

The healthcare workers were celebrating the suspension of plans to outsource six Madrid hospitals.

“We are clear that the demonstrations must continue and that they must be sustainable over time, be united and be huge. It is a question of maintaining the pressure in order to put a complete halt to the privatisation plan,” explained Sergio Fernández Ruiz, Vice President of the Asociación para la Defensa de la Sanidad Publica de Madrid (FADSP – Association for the Defence of Public Healthcare).

The FADSP is one of various different platforms involved in the Mesa en Defensa de la Sanidad Pública which issued a warning that “we are witnessing a drastic reduction in the public budget and an increase in social inequalities in terms of healthcare.”


Six hospitals are in the eye of the hurricane

At the beginning of September, Madrid’s Supreme Court took the precautionary measure to suspend the privatisation of six hospitals following an appeal lodged by the Asociación de Facultativos Especialistas de Madrid (AFEM – the Association of Medical Specialists).

These centres provide service to 18 per cent of the healthcare card holders in Madrid. These centres employ 5,000 healthcare professionals and are responsible for financial transactions of tens of millions of euro.

“No argument exists that proves that savings will be achieved and that the quality of the current standard of healthcare will be maintained but there are examples of how in the United Kingdom where similar privatisations have resulted in an irreversible deterioration in public healthcare and in the suffering of thousands of people,” stated the AFEM.

On 25 September, the Minister of Health for the Autonomous Community of Madrid, Javier Fernández Lasquetty played down the demonstrations and defended his project as “a measure that will deliver substantial savings and cost reductions whilst continuing to deliver very high levels of service.”

The Ministry for Health for the Autonomous Community of Madrid, which is dealing with twenty or so appeals before the courts, confirms that its model will deliver “20 per cent cost savings on the current cost, which equates to approximately 170 million euro per annum for the six hospitals.”

It is not a question of the first hospital to be privately managed but in the context of austerity and crisis in Spain, the situation in Madrid is key for three reasons: “the size of the population, the visibility and the fact that it is the first action in potentially widespread privatisations,” stated Fernández Ruiz.


The helplessness of healthcare workers

“We staged a 200-day long lock-in in the hospital from November 2012 until January 2013, we have taken part along with our fellow citizens in 14 km marches from the town of Coslada to Madrid in the ‘white waves’, we have received signatures – there is great support out there for us,” stated José María González who has worked as a nurse for three years in the Hospital del Henares in Coslada, one of the six hospitals affected.

The privately owned Sanitas Company announced at the end of August that it would be renegotiating contracts with workers.

“They will no longer be an allowance for night-shifts, shift changes or bank holidays”, stated González. Now the negotiations have come to a standstill.

“We are proud of the service that we deliver to 150,000 citizens from this hospital and we would like to maintain the same quality of service,” explained the nurse.

Both the national and regional governments are insisting on this objective “in view of the current lack of financial resources, to deliver the same public healthcare services at a lower cost.”

However, voices have already issued warnings about the consequences of these policies.

“According to the 2013 report on healthcare services in the Autonomous Communities, three consequences have been identified: an increase in waiting lists, a large number of people on low incomes who will not be able to afford the medication they need as a result of the co-payments (between 12 and 16 per cent) and lower levels of satisfaction amongst citizens in relation to the functioning of the public healthcare services,” explained Fernández Ruiz.


This article has been translated from Spanish.