Greek health workers demonstrate over coronavirus conditions

Demonstrators at the large Evangelismos hospital in central Athens held up signs demanding more staff, virus testing and hospital equipment.
Demonstrators at the large Evangelismos hospital in central Athens held up signs demanding more staff, virus testing and hospital equipment.PHOTO: AFP

ATHENS (AFP) - Hundreds of Greek healthcare workers demonstrated on Tuesday (April 7) against working conditions and manpower and equipment shortages in public hospitals fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The demonstrations coincided with World Health Day, according to the federation of hospital personnel.

"You only saw us when we covered our faces," proclaimed a poster printed by hospital trade unions, bearing a picture of doctors wearing anti-coronavirus masks.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said the country was dedicating World Health Day to medical staff battling on the coronavirus front line.

"We shall dedicate this day to Greek scientists, researchers, doctors, carers and ambulance drivers who have joined the battle against the coronavirus in Greece and abroad. We are proud of them and thank them," Ms Sakellaropoulou tweeted.

Despite her support, feelings are running high among under pressure health workers even if Greece, a country of some 10.7 million people, has suffered relatively less than other European nations in the pandemic, recording 81 deaths out of 1,755 cases.

Demonstrators at the large Evangelismos hospital in central Athens held up signs demanding more staff, virus testing and hospital equipment.

Police tried to enter the hospital courtyard where the rally was taking place before being forced back by demonstrators, an AFP photographer said.

Similar protests were held at hospitals in the northern city of Thessaloniki and in Larissa in central Greece, according to television reports.


Police officers look on as health workers take part in a protest in front of Evangelismos hospital in central Athens on April 7, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

Dr Despina Tossonidou, president of the doctors' union at Voula hospital in southern Athens, said that in addition to hiring more medical staff, intensive care units in private clinics should be requisitioned "to overcome the shortcomings of the public sector" during the virus crisis.

Healthcare in Greece was hit badly by the country's 2010-2018 financial crisis and the tough austerity measures demanded by creditors in exchange for massive debt bailouts.

'DROP IN THE OCEAN'

As part of measures to deal with the pandemic, the government has offered clinics €30 million (S$46.6 million) and announced the hiring on short-term contracts of 2,000 doctors and 2,000 nursing staff.

"These measures are just a drop in the ocean," said Dr Tossonidou, a radiologist.

"The hospital system needs 30,000 additional permanent doctors," she said, also citing the lack of protective equipment and Covid-19 testing in hospitals.

 
 
 

"The majority of tests are currently carried out in private hospitals at costs ranging from €150 to €300," said Dr Tossonidou.

"During the crisis the private sector has been called upon to replace a shattered public sector," said Dr Magda Nalbadoudi, an assistant radiologist with 19 years experience in the private sector.

"But currently it is the least well-off hospitals who are being leaned on to deal with the health crisis.

"The private, mainly for-profit ones, don't have experience of dealing with extraordinary situations," Dr Nalbadoudi said.