Health workers and their supporters demonstrated in central Madrid on Sunday, accusing the right-wing regional government of wanting to destroy the public health system in the Spanish capital.
More than 250,000 people took part in the demonstration, the government said, while organizers put the turnout at nearly a million.
Demonstrators filled the area around Plaza Cibeles downtown, chanting and waving flags. Many carried homemade signs with messages such as “The right to health is a human right. Defend healthcare.”
One protester carried a giant model of Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the right-wing leader of Madrid’s regional government, with a Pinocchio-esque nose.
“In Spain, the public health system used to be very good,” Madrid-based Ana Santamaria told AFP. “But in recent years it’s really gotten worse, especially since the pandemic.”
Waiting lists, revised doctors
Trade unions and left-wing parties complain about long patient waiting lists and staff shortages in the health centers, which means that patients have to overload hospital emergency rooms. Many government critics believe that the conservatives are dismantling the system.
“The situation is dramatic … We cannot properly take care of the patients,” Sister Maite Lopez told the AFP news agency.
Diaz Ayuso’s opponents say her government spends the least amount per capita on primary health care of any Spanish region, despite having the highest per capita income.
For every euro spent on healthcare in Madrid, one ends up in the private sector, protest organizers say.
Madrid leader blames upcoming elections for protests
Ayuso denies the allegation and wrote on Twitter on Sunday: “We all believe in public health.”
She claims the protests are motivated by the political interests of left-wing rivals ahead of May’s regional elections across most of Spain.
Spain has a hybrid healthcare system, but the public sector is larger than the private and is considered the pillar of the state.
The governments of the regional autonomous communities are responsible for a large part of the health budget as part of the country’s decentralized political system.
The protest movement against health care cuts has gained strength in recent months with regular protests.
Around 20,000 health workers took part in another Sunday protest in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.
Some doctors and paediatricians have been on strike back and forth since November, and the Amyts doctors’ union in Madrid is demanding better working conditions and pay.
mm/day (AFP, AP, Reuters)