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Health Cuts Endanger Lives on Greek Island

Greek doctorsThe health cuts implemented due to the economic crisis have created situations of life and death on the island of Samos, according to a feature article in Medical Xpress.
Samos, in the eastern Aegean Sea, has a population of 30,000. Yet, cuts in the health budget have reduced the island’s healthcare system to a single emergency response team with one ambulance.
Paramedic Georgia Tolli has lived through the crisis years and has seen the changes on the island’s health services.
“Our greatest fear at the moment is having two very serious incidents occurring simultaneously and being called upon to choose which one of the two we must go to — in other words to choose who lives and who dies,” she told Agence France-Presse.
Tolli added that when a 34-year-old man was involved in a motorbike accident in November, the ambulance was already involved in another emergency. The motorcyclist died.
“When I first came to Samos, there were enough paramedics to have at least two ambulances operating around the clock,” Tolli said. A year later, nine paramedics were backed up by five ambulance drivers. When the drivers retired or left, they were never replaced.
Samos’ general hospital is seriously understaffed: There is a shortage of 20 doctors and around 30 nurses, while the hospital’s administration has lost 22 employees. The hospital also services 12,000 people from neighboring islands that lack medical facilities, the report says.
Staff representative Stamatis Filippis said some services such as psychiatry are not provided at all, while several others are covered by a single specialist. “There are some basic specializations that our hospital should have but are now missing,” he said.
Vassiliki Veloni, an emergency ward doctor, explained: “For a year, the hospital only had a single cardiologist. How can you rely on a single person 365 days a year for such a vital service?” she said, adding that there are shortages in equipment and basic medical supplies such as syringes or catheters.
For better health care, the island natives have to go to Athens. A plane ticket to the capital costs 90 euros, or 150 euros if it is a last-minute booking. It is much cheaper to go by boat, but it is a 10-hour trip.
Health cuts have also greatly affected the salaries of medical staff. Doctor Veloni said “It’s gone from about 3,000 euros a month to 2,000 euros, which includes a 750-euro payment for 15 days in a row on duty.”
Nurse Stamatis Filippis has suffered an even bigger pay cut. Despite 25 years on the job, he earns just 850 euros a month, compared to 1,600 euros in 2009.
According to OECD figures, health spending per capita in Greece dropped by 25 percent between 2009 and 2012, and has not improved since.

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