In Spain, austerity legacy cripples coronavirus fight

“It makes no sense to take refuge in well-known claims, for example that the health system is exemplary [Prime Minister Pedro] Sánchez insists, “Contexto, an online publication, warned in an editorial. “It is a sad reminder of the comments from [Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez] Zapatero at the beginning of the economic crisis when he said the Spanish financial system was “one of the most solid in the world”.

Many in Spain regard the health system as the flagship of the country’s modernity: free of charge when used strongly decentralizedEach of the country’s 17 regions controls how their healthcare is operated and how well financed it is.

And a decade ago, Sánchez’s assertion that the system was “robust” was true. During the Spanish boom times before the financial crisis, the country’s health expenditure was close to the EU average.

This changed in 2011 when the economy turned down and a newly elected Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy launched a program from severe spending cuts. He started cutting a total of € 10 billion from health and education budgets and maintained an austerity program for much of his tenure, which ended in 2018.

Healthcare investments have dropped from 6.8 percent of GDP in 2009 to 5.9 percent in the government’s latest draft budget – well below current EU average spending of 7.5 percent of GDP.

As a result of the cuts, a growing number of newly trained doctors have been unemployed or emigrated to other countries, according to an EU report noted last year.

The austerity measures have also led to a number of bottlenecks, particularly a decrease in the number of hospital beds and an increase in temporary contracts for doctors and nurses, the report said.

Healthcare spending has risen again since austerity measures have eased, but investment is still insufficient, said José Félix Hoyo, emergency doctor in Móstoles near Madrid and president of the Spanish subsidiary of Médecins du Monde.

A wave of privatizations in this sector under the regional wings of the Rajoy Conservative People’s Party (PP) has further undermined Spain’s ability to cope with a pandemic of the magnitude of the current crisis, Hoyo warned.

“What happened in Spain was this trend [of privatization]The very small company has grown as a result of the economic crisis in our healthcare sector, ”he said. “And when it comes to coordinating the management of an epidemic, there is an obstacle.”

The Madrid region, where the worst wave of privatization has taken place, is now facing enormous pressures as it is also the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

The accusations that Rajoy’s austerity measures have not prepared the country for the current crisis do not fit well with members of the PP. Earlier this week, Rajoy’s successor, party leader Pablo Casado, flatly denied that his party had cut health care spending, calling the Spanish system “the best in Europe.”

The rejections have angered members of Podemos, the junior coalition partner of the new left government, whose leader Pablo Iglesias is known as a prominent critic of austerity and privatization in healthcare.

Now, as one of four deputy prime ministers, he and his party colleagues must fight a pandemic with a health system that they say has been eroded by the previous government’s neoliberal orthodoxy.

When Sandra Ortega, heiress to the clothing retail empire Inditex, donated 1 million medical face masks to fight the spread of the virus, the party had to bite its tongue despite having attacked the company in the past for employing cheap foreign workers.

Podemos’ contribution to Spain’s response to the crisis is evident in the € 200 billion package of measures that Sánchez has announced to help keep the economy going. The party has been reportedly pushing for an expansive approach when developing measures.

As the crisis grows, the discrepancy between the efforts of 24-hour health professionals and the system in which they operate is likely to widen.

“Every day we go to our balconies and clap [for the health care workers]and it’s great, ”said Manuel Franco, professor of public health at Alcalá de Henares University and Johns Hopkins University.

As in countries across Europe, nightly appreciation has become a ritual in Spain.

“But we shouldn’t forget that we need more money, more investments, we have to take good care of it [professionals]Franco added. “You need better jobs, better equipment, we need better technicians, better data management and better research. Hopefully that will come out of this crisis.”

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