Catalan healthcare is unevenly affected by the doctor strike to halt budget cuts

The trade union organising the protest has said that 70% of doctors took part in the strike, while the Catalan Ministry of Health reduced the figure to only 20%. Doctors are protesting at the budget cuts in the Catalan healthcare system in order to decrease the public deficit, which included a 5% salary reduction. The doctor’s union called for a strike on November 15th and 16th, coinciding with the negotiations on the 2012 budget and the Spanish elections. The Catalan Government stated that the strike asks for unrealistic salary increases and considered it has “failed”. 20,000 medical consultations have to be postponed.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

November 15, 2011 10:02 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The Catalan healthcare system has not been paralysed on the first of the two day doctor strike. However, 20,000 medical consultations have been postponed, although emergency services and severe patients received the same attention as they would on a normal day. When it comes to the strike’s support figures, there are great differences between the official data released by the Catalan Government and the figures from the organising trade union. The Catalan Ministry of Health stated that only 20% of the 16,500 doctors working in the public healthcare system went on strike this Tuesday. However, the doctor union ‘Metges de Catalunya’ (Doctors of Catalonia) announced that 71% of the doctors in Catalan public hospitals and health centres participated in the protest. ‘Metges de Catalunya’ called for a two day strike on November 15th and 16th in order to protest for the Catalan Government’s budget cuts affecting public healthcare in order to reduce Catalonia’s public deficit. The budget cuts included a 5% reduction of doctor salaries, and now ‘Metges de Catalunya’ is fearing another reduction. It claims they be at 2010 levels in 2012. The trade union organised the strike coinciding with the electoral campaign for the Spanish General Elections, to be held on Sunday. It also coincides with the negotiations of the 2012 budget of the Catalan Government, with rumours of further budget reductions affecting healthcare.

The Spokesperson of the Catalan Government, Francesc Homs, stated that the salary increase asked by the doctors on strike is not realistic giving the current situation. He also said that the strike “is useless” and “a mistake”, and that “it has failed”. Homs told the organising union that “this is not the way to discuss the country’s public healthcare system”, and he asked ‘Metges de Catalunya’ “to sit on the negotiation table with the other unions and business associations”. The Government’s Spokesperson pointed out that other trade unions did not give their support to the two-day strike.

However, the doctor union ‘Metges de Catalunya’, which organised the protest stated through a press release that the strike had “a high support” rate and “it is a forceful response” to the Catalan Government’s “budget cuts”. They believe that they are defending “a quality public healthcare” system.

The strike, a failure or a success?

The official figures released by the two parties involved in the strike differ significantly. The real figures are difficult to know due to the complex organisation chart of the Catalan public healthcare system, with several hospital networks, consortiums and centre categories. 16,500 doctors were called on strike from 65 hospitals and 427 community health centres.

While the organising trade union states that the participation rate has been “high”, saying that 71% of the Catalan doctors went on strike, the Catalan Government has called the strike “a failure” and has stated that only 20% of the doctors participated in the protest. However, both the trade union and the Catalan Ministry of Health coincide that the strike has received more support in the largest hospitals compared to the community health centres. The Ministry talked about a figure of 16% support in the primary healthcare system, while ‘Metges de Catalunya’ said that 65% of doctors went on strike at this healthcare level. Regarding large hospitals, the Government figure was set at 22.9%, while the trade union  claimed it was 76%. In addition, among the public funded hospitals, those state-owned were more affected by the strike that the private-owned hospitals that cover some services funded by the Catalan public healthcare system.

Despite the differences in the percentages, the atmosphere in Catalan hospitals and community health centres has been relatively calm, despite isolated loud protests. The noisiest took place in Barcelona, next to Vall d’Hebron Hospital (one of the reference hospitals in Spain), where a group of a hundred doctors interrupted the traffic on a highway circling the city (called ‘Ronda de Dalt’). ‘Metges de Catalunya’ detached itself from this protest action through a press statement.

20,000 medical consultations postponed

20,000 doctor consultations and surgery times have been postponed, and some centres were functioning like a weekend day, since many waiting rooms were half empty. Some patients had already been warned and did not come. However, others did not receive any indication and came to check if their doctor was working or was on strike. A high-rank official from the Catalan Ministry of Health, Francesc Sancho, in charge of Strategy and Coordination, informed CNA that medical consultations will be rescheduled and patients will see their doctor “immediately”. However, despite postponing doctor consultations, hospitals and community health centres attended emergencies and severe patients were receiving their treatments and having their tests done.