Hundreds of thousands of people gather to defend Madrid’s public health

Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Madrid on Sunday in defense of the region’s primary care services, warning that the system’s overhaul plans will “destroy” local health care.

On a sunny afternoon, huge crowds gathered at four points in the capital and marched to the city hall in a mass protest with the slogan: “Madrid mobilizes in support of public health care and against the plan to destroy services. primary care “.

Unions say primary care services in the Madrid area have been under enormous pressure for years due to a lack of resources and staff, with the situation aggravated by regional mismanagement.

A regional government spokesman said there were 200,000 people on the street, but organizers gave a three times higher figure, saying 650,000 protesters had joined the protest.

Aerial footage of the main avenues leading to the city hall showed a vast sea of ​​protesters arriving from all directions, including many doctors and health workers, trade unionists and politicians.

“Your health should never depend on your wallet,” reads a huge green banner, while others read: “Healthcare is not for sale, must be defended” as thousands of voices demanded the resignation of the right-wing leader of the Isabel Diaz Ayuso region

The protest, launched by local associations and municipalities, targeted the health policies of the Ayuso regional government, its push for a public-private health partnership and its restructuring of the primary care system.

A doctor working in an emergency unit in the region told AFP that the cuts, staff shortages and poor management of health services were putting a strain on medical staff.

“I haven’t slept well in six weeks. I barely survive. I continue to have anxiety attacks that I can only control with breathing exercises or sometimes drugs. And all my colleagues are the same,” said Isabel de Barrio, 59.

“We have to endure it as best we can.”

The protest anticipates the planned strike of almost 5 thousand regional family doctors and pediatricians which should begin on November 21, due to “the overload of work, endless appointments and lack of time with patients”.

They will join an earlier strike by medical staff on the new model for non-hospital emergency centers, which saw some offer only video consultations due to a lack of staff.

Spain’s left-wing government supported the protesters, with Cabinet Minister Felix Bolanos saying the crisis was due to the “disastrous management” of public health by the regional government, run by the right-wing opposition People’s Party.

“Madrid is the region that invests least in health per inhabitant. The national average is € 1,700 per inhabitant and in Madrid it is € 1,300,” he said.

“It is the region with the lowest number of doctors and nurses per inhabitant”.

Speaking to reporters at the rally, Monica Garcia of the far-left Mas Madrid party said the regional government is destroying the public health system.

“What they are doing is an unprecedented disaster,” he said.

“Ayuso needs to step forward, listen to this demonstration and take political responsibility: either her health minister goes or she goes, or the entire Popular Party government goes,” he said.

But few hoped that Ayuso or his government would listen or make any significant changes.

“I don’t think so. They have so many business interests that even if they wanted to change their policies, they couldn’t,” said Jose Luis Yuguero, 66, a self-employed energy expert.

“We’ll have to do another three or four demonstrations like this to have any effect.”

© 2022 AFP