Spanish unions kicked off a rolling programme of protest actions on Thursday to highlight an accelerating health emergency in the country.
The actions by healthworkers, which are designed not to disrupt services to patients, will kick off in Madrid and then roll out across the country.
The right wing government of Mariano Rajoy recently unveiled a €7 billion, or a 13% cut to already stretched public health budgets as part of its pledge to meet punishing EU public deficit targets.
Unions indicated that this was the start of a long campaign. ‘The cuts are going to be made throughout this year and with even more cruelty next year,’ said Antonio Cabrera, general secretary of the health federation of Worker’s Commissions (CCOO).
Earlier this week the President of the General Nursing Council, Maximo Gonzalez, revealed that in recent months 10,000 nurses had been given the boot, through the decision not to renew temporary work contracts.
Unions say the quality of patient services have already been negatively affected as job cuts, salary freezes and longer hours have demoralised and exhausted health workers.
Cuts will lead to longer waiting lists and together with plans to introduce user charges will lead to people going private, they add.
Unions and healthworkers are also furious about cuts to access to health services to undocumented immigrants and argue this is potentially unconstitutional, pledging that in any case ‘professional healthworkers will not refuse to care for any patient.’
The legality of the decree law introducing the cuts has also been challenged by the General Council of Spanish Bar Associations (CGAE) that said restrict healthcare and limiting the right to health ‘clashes’ with the Constitution and various Statutes of the country’s 17 autonomous communities (regions).
In a statement issued to the press on April 30, the CGAE pointed out that healthcare is a ‘universal and equal’ right recognized not only in international treaties, but also in the Constitution and the various statutes of Spain’s regions.
The CGAE has warned that although the Constitution recognizes that the Government may adopt changes via decree for extraordinary and urgent necessities, it could not used such powers when they affected fundamental rights or Spain’s autonomous communities (regions), suggesting that at minimum it would need to go through the normal parliamentary process to get the cuts adopted.
The CGAE also recalled that discrimination over the right to health is forbidden whether on grounds of birth, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, belief, opinion, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, illness or any other personal or social circumstances. It called for a “constitutional review” of the move to deny health cards to migrants who cannot prove they are legal residents of Spain.
There are no current plans for strikes, but rather short protests actions to highlight the perils of the Government austerity package to members of the public. But unions warn that action would be stepped up unless the government changed tack
‘The streets have to occupy the now between all social partners and citizens,” said Pilar Navarro, secretary for the health and social services section of the UGT confederation. Navarro would not rule out ‘other measures’ to try to prevent the cuts being carried out.