Greek doctors, pharmacists go on strike against reforms
AFP ATHENS GREEK pharmacists and doctors on Monday kicked off a week of labour action against cost-cutting measures and liberalisation reforms pursued by the country’s debt-struck government.
Most pharmacies were to shut until Tuesday in opposition to a state attempt to further cut their profit margins to 15 percent, from 18 percent now, in order to help sustain Greece’s troubled social security funds.
State hospitals were only treating emergency cases until Thursday to pressure the government to abandon plans for additional wage cuts, which are part of ongoing salary reductions in the broader Greek public sector.
And the association of Greek doctors has also called its members to a nationwide walkout, barring emergencies, in protest against health sector spending cuts and a disputed organisational overhaul.
Health professionals say they are obliged to sign new contracts with a new state health organisation, EOPPYY, that began operation on Monday to streamline and improve management of the main social security funds.
But there is already a backlog of millions of euros in unpaid state bills for medicine, medical supplies and equipment.
“We are no longer able to operate our pharmacies,” Theodore Abatzoglou, head of the association of Greek pharmacists, told state television NET.
“We have unpaid bills worth 400 million euros at a time when banks have closed access to loans while our suppliers demand payment in cash,” he said.
The Greek government is trying to limit overspending on social welfare, part of a general austerity drive ordered under pressure from the EU and International Monetary Fund after the country nearly went bankrupt in 2010.
Chaotic account-keeping has led to massive waste of state funds for decades.
This enabled unscrupulous doctors and pharmacists to write false prescriptions to patients — some of them already deceased — and skim off the proceeds.
Last year, labour ministry officials revealed that millions of euros annually had also been spent on retirement payments to long-dead pensioners.
Last week, the government said health spending overall had skyrocketed to 10.6 billion euros ($13.4 billion) in 2009 and the goal was to reduce the sum to seven billion euros this year.
“Failure to do so means that pensions would have to be cut by 12 percent,” Labour Minister George Koutroumanis told a news conference.
Many retired Greeks have already sustained pension cuts in addition to income lost through price hikes, while civil servants have also had their monthly salaries slashed by hundreds of euros.
Greece, struggling under a debt of over 350 billion euros, is slogging through a fourth year of recession that has seen its economy shrink by a cumulative 15 percent, bringing unemployment to almost 18 percent.