A woman holds a placard on Oct 19, 2011, during a demonstration in front of the Bellvitge hospital in Barcelona to protest against government austerity cuts.
Spain’s Catalonia cuts costs ‘Please don’t get sick’

ARBOC, Spain, Nov 14, (AFP): Medical operations cancelled, night emergency units axed, towns left with no doctors: Spanish patients already feel the pain of an economic crisis dominating November 20 elections.
Spain’s cash-strapped northeastern region of Catalonia, whose capital is Barcelona, is making dramatic health cuts and there is a rising concern that such measures may spread to other regions. In the run-up to the vote, widely expected to deliver a landslide victory to the conservative Popular Party over the ruling Socialists, doctors and patients in Catalonia are taking to the streets in protest.
“I am scared, I don’t want to die. I want to live many more years and if they cut costs much more I may not be able to do it,” worried Antonio Moreno, leaning on his walking stick.
Cancer
At 65, he has been operated on six times for cancer and has had to wait up to five months for an ultrasound scan.
“In the last operation, after I had been admitted they told me they could not operate because there was no anaesthesia,” he recalled.
Despite his fragile health, every week he joins a protest outside Bellvitge hospital, one of the largest in Barcelona and one that has suffered some of the severest cuts.
The hospital budget has been cut by 10 percent, explained doctor Teresa Fuentelsaz. “For three months we had 300 beds closed, that is a third of the hospital, and we closed more than half of the operating theatres,” she said.
It is a similar story in all the major medical centres of Catalonia.
“Please don’t get sick, we are in a crisis,” warns a poster at another large Barcelona hospital, Vall d’Hebron.
Regions, not the central government, are responsible for health care in Spain.
But the national government to be elected in less than two weeks will set the target for regional deficits.
Healthcare
Catalonia, run by the conservative nationalist Covergence and Union party, aims to repair a regional budget deficit forecast to hit 2.66 percent of gross domestic product this year — well beyond a 1.3-percent target set by the central government.
To do so, it wants to save one billion euros ($1.4 billion) on healthcare, equal to 10 percent of the 2010 budget.
“Having to close operating theatres and perform fewer operations is not good news,” conceded Joaquim Casanovas, manager of the Catalan Health Institute, a public body that runs major health centres in the region.
But it is a necessary step to salvage the 2011 budget, he says.
Far from the big city, Catalan towns are also suffering; patients have to drive further to reach the nearest hospital because night emergency rooms are closing.
The town of Arboc, population 5,000 in the Catalan province of Tarragona, has always boasted a duty doctor.
“Since the 19th century there has always been a doctor living here. You knocked on his door and he treated you at any time of day or night,” said town hall health director Montse P. Gallego.
Protest
Then, 17 years ago, the town opened a 24-hour medical centre.
But since two months ago, medical staff have been picking up their belongings and leaving at 9pm. The waiting room is then converted into an improvised casino where neighbours play bingo or cards to while away the hours during a sit-in protest, often lasting until dawn. Among the regulars is 89-year-old Montserrat Perez, who always arrives punctually despite her age and fragile health.
“I come to ask them not to take way the ambulances because there are people in the town who are alone and don’t have anyone to take them to hospital,” Perez said.
But the cuts don’t only affect patients.
“We have to do more work because we have fewer means and greater pressure, which can endanger the quality of care,” said doctor Carmen Perez at Barcelona’s Santa Creu i Sant Pau Hospital, founded in 1401 and one of the oldest in Europe.
“It increases strain and worry,” agrees Paloma de la Calle, nursing assistant at Bellvitge. Since the cuts began, “day to day the work is unbearable,” she said.
 

 

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