Healthcare plans prompt staff to resign


Senior staff at over half of the Madrid region’s medical clinics have presented their resignations en masse in protest at local government plans to put healthcare into private hands.

A group of health workers handed in the resignations of 322 senior professionals at 137 of the region’s clinics yesterday. Another 3,000 staff have refused to sit on regional healthcare commissions as part of the protest.

Other professionals have supported the measure but decided not to step down because they said they feared the effect such a move would have on the region’s health system.

“The determination of professionals not to collaborate in the dismantling of primary healthcare is clear,” read a statement issued by protesters.

The move is the latest development in conflict that began in the autumn, when the regional government of Ignacio González unveiled plans to let private companies manage six hospitals and 27 clinics – about 10 per cent of the total – in Madrid. Healthcare workers have responded by staging a series of street protests, often while dressed in their uniforms, earning them the nickname “the white tide”.

The first such demonstration of 2013 took place on Monday, as thousands of health professionals marched through central Madrid under the banner “Healthcare should be defended, not sold.”

December strike

Many workers in the sector also staged a strike throughout most of December in a bid to persuade the authorities to change their minds.

“A service like healthcare should be public,” said charity worker Soledad Medina (35), a Madrid resident who opposes the government’s plans. “In Spain, access to education and healthcare are necessary for the future of this country.”

But the Madrid government, run by the conservative Partido Popular (PP), argues that it has no option other than to introduce private participation in the sector, as it seeks to cut costs. Madrid, like most of Spain’s 17 regions, is aiming to slash its deficit to meet targets set by the central government of Mariano Rajoy.

The new reform, it says, will make the sector more competitive. “In the PP, we want to stimulate healthy competition in the management of public healthcare, as we have done with education,” said PP spokesman Íñigo Henríquez de Luna, on Monday via Twitter. “The people of Madrid value freedom of choice when it comes to doctors and hospitals.”

As part of its regional reform, Madrid has also announced the introduction of a €1 fee for all prescriptions.

The resignations presented yesterday do not come into effect until the privatisation plan is up and running.

Opponents of the scheme hope the local government will change its mind in the meantime.