Greece’s financial crisis takes toll on the nation’s health

A 40% public hospital budget cut has restricted access to care. AAP

Another round of violent protests erupted in Greece last week, following the latest austerity cuts to public service jobs and pay. Meanwhile, the creeping consequences of austerity measures are beginning to show, with the nation facing a sharp increase in suicides and restrictions on access to health care.

A recent paper published in The Lancet presented results of surveys of more than 12,000 Greek people in 2007 and 2009, supplemented with more current information from research institutes and government agencies.

The picture, while not catastrophic, is grim, and demonstrates the sensitivity of health and health care to financial and economic fortune.

Greek citizens were less likely to seek help for medical or dental health concerns in 2009 than they were in 2007, before the financial turmoil began. This was principally because they could no longer access such services, as health facilities had closed and waiting times at remaining hospitals and clinics had lengthened.

Public hospital budgets have been cut by 40%, leaving health services understaffed and short of medical supplies. The private hospital sector has also been affected, with a 25% to 30% decline in admissions since the onset of the economic crisis.

The most recent data shows suicide rates rose by 40% in the first half of 2011, compared with 2010. The inability to repay debts may be a factor, with 25% of callers to Greece’s suicide helpline telling counsellors they were experiencing financial difficulties.

There’s great unhappiness about Greece’s reduced access to health care. AAP