Greek medical infrastructure is reportedly struggling to meet demand, particularly on the islands and in areas popular with tourists.
A recent spate of deaths this summer, which were likely preventable, have prompted increased scrutiny of Greece’s medical system.
A limited number of doctors, ambulance crews, and medical staff have made it difficult for healthcare professionals to respond adequately to the demands and stresses placed on the Greek healthcare system, with the situation being especially chronic on the Aegean islands.
Greek medical infrastructure strained on islands popular with tourists
Certain hospitals on the islands lack permanent general practitioners, depending solely on a rotational system of brief staffing periods filled by mainland personnel, drawn by monetary incentives.
Ambulance services face an even direr situation. Numerous islands in the Cyclades and Dodecanese possess scarcely a single ambulance accessible round the clock. This challenge extends beyond the islands; Athens contends with a deficit of operational ambulances, currently numbering around fifty, which falls short of the necessary eighty-five to ninety.
During an interview with POLITCO, Giorgos Mathiopoulos, president of the Greek emergency ambulance service (EKAV) told the publication. “We need to redesign the ambulance service from scratch as there are huge gaps all over the country.”
Even when efforts are made to recruit additional medical professionals, the endeavor often falters as personnel are hesitant to permanently relocate to these islands, where the mounting cost of living, spurred by burgeoning tourism, has become untenable. This further amplifies the burden on EKAV.
“We have sent several (health care) rescuers from the rest of the country to the islands to cover the needs of the season,” explained Mathiopoulos. “Our colleagues are forced to cut their summer holidays for this, but these are obviously just makeshift solutions.”
The situation concerning Greece’s medical infrastructure has been brought to the forefront by several incidents. At least nine likely-preventable deaths occurred in Greece this summer.
In June, a 63-year-old woman on Kos Island died in transit to the local hospital in a pickup truck due to the island’s sole ambulance being occupied. Operating an ambulance around the clock requires eleven people. Despite having three ambulances, Kos can only use one due to a shortage of paramedics – ten in total, with two nearing retirement next year.
Following this incident, a pregnant 19-year-old died in Athens after waiting over five hours for an ambulance, sparking more cases of fatal consequences due to inadequate medical transportation across Greece.
On Lesbos Island, a 78-year-old woman lost consciousness while swimming, with paramedics arriving two hours later, finding her heart had already stopped.
During his election campaign, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pledged to employ approximately ten-thousand health care workers, including eight-hundred ambulance drivers and two-hundred-and-fifty motorbike paramedics.
Opposition parties are criticizing the government for the current state of the Greek medical system and have alleged that the government is planning to privatize it, although this has been denied.
However, the main issue is that medical practitioners are unable or unwilling to relocate to the islands, which has created a deficit in permanent staff. One of the contributing problems is that accommodation on the islands tends to be set up for more lucrative tourist tenancies rather than cheaper long-term options suitable for Greek doctors and medical staff.