Catalonia reduces the less used primary health services to save money, generating citizen protests

The Catalan Government is reducing public deficit and cutting public spending by 10% this year. All areas are affected, including healthcare, which is one of the departments with a smaller percentage budget reduction. Last August, 25 community health centres (CAP) reduced their opening hours, closing their emergency room during nights and weekends as they were scarcely used; as of this September, another 21 centres in a similar situation have been added to the list. Citizens have been camping in some CAPs to protest about the decision.


September 2, 2011 01:55 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- Many citizens are contesting the Catalan Government's decision to reduce funding to the primary care network with the objective of reducing the overall public deficit. A total of 46 community health centres (CAP) have closed their emergency room during nights and/or Sundays from this September -25 of which already underwent the change to routine in August. According to the Catalan Ministry of Health, those services were used only by 1.5 to 4 people per night. Despite the closing, the Ministry insists that patients have not seen their access to healthcare reduced, as alternatives have been offered, such as phone attention or ambulance services. These actions are framed into the Catalan Government’s global plan to reduce public spending by 10% this 2011, in order to engage with budget austerity principles. All government areas are affected to different degrees, and public healthcare is also included, despite being one of the departments with a lower percentage reduction (6.5%). Nevertheless, some citizens are not convinced and feel their access to basic healthcare is now more difficult. Some have decided to take their complaint further and a month ago they occupied a handful of CAPs. This was the case of the Ca n’Oriach CAP, in Sabadell, a working-class residential city in Barcelona Metropolitan Area in the Vallès Occidental County. Three other CAPs in the same county were also taken over by protesters of all ages.  Each night, at 12am, protesters were impeding the closure of the doors and were sleeping in front of the health centre or on its lobby and corridors, while the emergency room service was without professionals. At 8am, when the CAP opened again for the public, protesters moved outside the building and camped in front of it. Police intervened at Wednesday morning, but the protesters have since returned.

Last Tuesday night, at 3am, the Catalan Police announced their intention to empty the Ca n’Oriach CAP facility and asked protesters to leave if they did not want the police to use the force. Protesters left “as they did not want a confrontation with police” and because theirs “is a civic protest” a camper in front of Ca n’Oriach CAP said. They left the building and camped in front of it. The Catalan Police said they intervened on the wishes of the Catalan Ministry of Health since “health and safety conditions within the facilities have gradually degraded” and “several issues have occurred”.

Protesters say their actions are “reasonable and civic”

On Wednesday, protesters took the CAP of Ca n’Oriach again; this time with five times more people, reaching around a hundred protesters. They spent the night and police did not come. However, this Thursday the Catalan Minister for Home Affairs, Felip Puig, in charge of police and security, warned that protests cannot interfere with the functioning of CAPs and that police will act again if necessary. Protesters insist that their actions are “fair”, “reasonable” and “civic” and they “are not looking for a fight with police”. In addition, they emphasise that they have designed the protest so that it does not interfere with the healthcare service provided when the CAP opens its doors from 8am to 12am.

The Government stresses that the situation “needs to come back to normality”

The Director of CatSalut, Josep Maria Padrosa, in charge of the CAP network, said on Thursday evening that the CAPs “need to come back to normality”. He emphasised that the Government has been “tolerant and respectful” with the protests, but that they must come to an end. He denounced some “pressures to professionals” by some protesters and he said that some “functioning matters” have started to occur. In the light of these events, he has not discarded asking the Catalan Police to intervene again.

The Catalan Minister for Health says that healthcare access is guaranteed

From the 1,250 existing CAPs in Catalonia, 185 of them were offering 24 hour assistance seven days a week. However, from August 1st, 25 CAPs have already closed their emergency room from 12am to 8am and/or during the weekends. In addition, from this September, 21 others will be included on this list. The services closed had only between 1.5 and 4 patients per night, according to the Government. The Catalan Ministry of Health, Boi Ruiz, explained that in a scenario of overall budget austerity and spending reduction, the less used services will be closed to ensure “the system’s sustainability”. Ruiz said that more CAPs may be added to the list in the coming weeks. The Director of the CatSalut, Josep Maria Padrosa, had said the day before that up to90 CAPs could be affected. However, Ruiz explained that the plan is “flexible”, and if a problem is detected, it will be corrected, and some of the closed services could re-open their doors. Ruiz wanted to underline that citizens have been offered alternatives, such as phone assistance, going to other health centres, home visits or ambulance services.