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Greece: Doctors strike over plans to close hospitals

Greece: Doctors strike over plans to close hospitals
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Doctors and hospital staff in Greece have been on strike in protest at their government’s plans to close hospitals and lay off staff.

The Greek government intends to shut some hospitals completely and turn others into day centres. It is also getting rid of around 2,500 employees.

Greek doctor Piros Papakostantinou, who took part in the walkout, said ordinary people are suffering: “We are fighting so the people can have access to hospitals, so that no beds are lost, so that no hospital closes. We are also fighting for our jobs, for better conditions inside public hospitals and for free health care for all.”

Staff are already working longer hours for up to 40 percent less pay and hospitals lack essential equipment.

Many Greeks are no longer entitled to free treatment and must find the money to pay for medicines. The unemployed lose their right to universal health care after one year.

Michalis Laladakis, has epilepsy and is unemployed. The 49-year-old said he worries about how he will find the money for his treatment: “I have epilepsy, and up until five, six months ago my medication, which I need from the day I was born until the day I die, was free. And now I have to pay 25 percent of its price.”

The drastic cuts to Greece’s health service are part of the country’s agreement with its creditors – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, known as the troika – to continue receiving loans.

Greece will also lay off another 15,000 public sector workers outright by the end of 2014.

Hundreds of doctors, nurses, and hospital staff who have been placed in the mobility pool – in which they are given eight months to find work in another civil service department or lose their jobs – gathered outside the health ministry to protest.

The health care workers are included in the 12,500 state employees placed in the September mobility scheme, which includes members of municipal police forces and teachers.