Landing in Barajas airport in Madrid two weeks ago, it took no more than five minutes to recognize the signs of a country demoralized and frustrated by the effects of spending cuts in Spain’s arduous economic situation. The floor of the airport was covered in shreds of paper left over by a cleaners strike, a warning of the social upheaval and indignation on the streets outside with the doctor and nurses strike and protests in response to measures taken to privatize healthcare funding in Spain’s capital.
Strikes similar to this one have of course taken place before, however protests against the privatization of healthcare throughout Madrid over the past few weeks have shaken the country to its core. Indeed, as second year medical student Cristina García at the Universidad Autónoma of Madrid notes: “Doctors have never collectively and in such great numbers taken to the streets like this, and it’s not because they’ve lowered their salaries, prolonged their working day or taken away their Christmas bonus; they are protesting because this is something that very directly affects their patients”.
Capio Sanidad and Ribera Salud are the two major companies competing for the new business opportunities related to the private funding of hospitals. The provinces of Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha intend to begin this movement away from public healthcare with the opening of four and six hospitals, respectively. And this wave of privatization is spreading to other regions.
According to García, the prior experience of this private funding in the Alzira hospital of Valencia “only served to prove the corruptive nature and weakness of this system”.
The protesters took to the streets to criticise a system that would “place such a responsibility in the hands of a group who seek to gain profit at the cost of people’s health” in the words of García. In the view of Fernando Lamata, the socialist ex-health advisor in Castilla-La Mancha, speaking at a conference this summer “such a system could seriously harm healthcare, in debilitating a structure of public service that takes a lot to create, but is very easy to destroy”.
The general view of the protesting medical workers is that Spain will see people going to private hospitals, which will of course alleviate some of the costs of the public hospitals. However, as fourth year medical student María Bono claimed, “This will create differences between the rich and the poor, and the private hospitals aren’t even as good as the public ones”.
The severity of the economic situation in Spain renders this a difficult situation for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the conservative People’s Party, in a country where 48.6% of the country’s youth face unemployment. However, it is clear that the doctors and medical students involved in these protests are determined to push for an alternative to the privatization of funding.
According to Cristina García “the providers must understand healthcare and medicine to be able to understand where cuts can be made and how the solution can be solved”. Regardless of the economic strains weighing on the country, it appears that the government will face serious repercussions if they continue to impose such austerity measures in healthcare, as María Bono states, “I can assure you that we won’t give up”.