Business World

Friday 23 February 2018

'People are suffering ... if Europe turns away from us, it will be like war'

A pharmacist searches for medicine for a customer at a pharmacy at the city of Iraklio on the island of Crete
A pharmacist searches for medicine for a customer at a pharmacy at the city of Iraklio on the island of Crete
Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

As Greeks await news from Brussels, praying for a final deal that will allow them to avoid total collapse, the busiest hospital in the country is running critically low on supplies.

The Evangelismos hospital in Athens treats thousands of patients a day but with a dwindling amount of medical supplies, staff fear they can only continue to cover basic functions until the end of the month.

The hospital has already been forced to cancel countless out-patient appointments, doctors told the Irish Independent.

The state-run hospital has been facing serious financial problems for months, with budgets cut to the bone.

By April of this year, Greece's 140 public hospitals saw their budget slashed from €650m to just €43m.

Staff now fear operations will be under threat without any further emergency funding. Basic supplies are already running dangerously low, from disposable sheets to medical swabs and even sutures for stitches.

One doctor who specialises in urology, Dr Georgious, said vital supplies were now below the critical level. "We are having difficulty with several materials, it is becoming very bad. Our elderly patients are the worst affected.

"Already in my clinics, we are cancelling many appointments, we do not have the supplies," he said.

Patients who can still be treated are facing lengthy queues as a result of cutbacks in the hospital, leaving the remaining doctors struggling to cope.

"We are doing what we can but we fear more operations will be cut and this will costs lives," Dr Georgious added.

The man in charge of Greek hospitals acknowledged to the Irish Independent that they could face a serious problem within a fortnight if a deal with Europe is not reached.

Mr Ioannisi Baskozos, General Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health, confirmed that without an immediate agreement with Europe, Greek hospitals, which are already struggling, would face a critical situation. He said the Syriza government were "discussing all possibilities" for keeping hospitals operating.

"The first problem is the food. The food companies tell us if we can't get money, they will stop providing food for the hospitals but we are already talking to other Greek suppliers about this.

"The pharmaceutical companies tell us they don't see a problem for now, but 15 days after with no agreement, I know we will have a problem," he said.

Mr Baskozos said he is in touch with hospitals and pharmacies on a daily basis and insisted that at this present moment there is no "special problems" with food or drugs. But he said urgent action must be taken, accepting the concerns of doctors that if medicines are not ordered now, they could run out by September.

"Yes, it is true, absolutely we are watching this. We are speaking with the pharmaceutical industries and they have insisted there will be no problems in the next few days. But we will have problems if this continues. If Europe turns away from will be like war," he added.

Staff at the hospital were evenly split on the referendum. A young doctor, who has worked at the hospital for three and a half years said he believed the result was the correct answer. He only began supporting Syriza after witnessing how the austerity measures had impacted the hospital.

"Things have been bad at the hospital for a number of years. The conditions are worse that some third world countries now.

"This week we are seeing the worst of it now because Europe has cut off funding. I think this decision by the people will mean a quicker agreement and more justice for Greece.

"The decision was 50/50 here, the older and richer doctors voted Yes, but there is no tension now. We just want an agreement, if that does not happen, things will be critical. We are concerned for our patients, we are anxious and we are afraid," he said.

Irish Independent

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