Greece: austerity takes a heavy toll on public health


25-02-2014

A paper published in last week's Lancet draws attention to the plight of Greece’s most vulnerable groups who are faced with cuts in the healthcare services they need urgently. Lead author Alexander Kentikelenis describes the situation as a “public health tragedy”.

The data reveals that the Greek welfare state has failed to protect people at the time they needed support the most.
- Alexander Kentikelenis

Austerity measures in Greece, imposed following a bailout by the international community, have led to devastating social and health consequences for the country’s population, according to a report in yesterday’s Lancet

Greece’s health crisis: from austerity to denialism, a paper by Cambridge University sociologist Alexander Kentikelenis and colleagues, shows how rising demand for healthcare as a result of the cuts has coincided with a drop in the provision of services, leading to substantial unmet medical need. 

In 2010 the Greek government agreed to an austerity package overseen by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, known collectively as the Troika. Since then, Greece has had the largest cutbacks to the health sector seen across Europe, as the bailout package capped public expenditure at 6% of GDP. The country’s public spending on health is now less than any of the other pre-2004 EU members.

“The data reveals that the Greek welfare state has failed to protect people at the time they needed support the most. A rapidly growing number of Greeks are losing access to healthcare as a result of budget cuts and unemployment,” said Kentikelenis.

The authors of the paper acknowledge that Greece’s healthcare system was in need of reorganisation well before its economic plight came to the world’s attention. However, they take the government to task for its denial that the health of the population has been affected as a result of the slashing of budgets.

At a time of increasing health need and falling incomes, Greece’s bailout agreement stipulated shifting the cost of healthcare to patients. The Greek government introduced new charges for visits to outpatient clinics and higher costs for medicines.

The authors’ analysis of the latest available data from the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions revealed a 47% rise in people who felt they did not receive medically necessary healthcare. This increase was linked to a rising inability to afford care and the costs of travel to access health services, according to the authors. Rapidly increasing unemployment since 2009 meant a growing number of people no longer had any form of health cover. 

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Image: Harsh winter in Greece. Banner image: A modern thermopylae.
Credit: Both images: Learning to live with the crisis


Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

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The Cambridge Institute of Public Health (CIPH) is a partnership of researchers and agencies working to improve public health, founded by the University of Cambridge, the NHS and the Medical Research Council.

Cambridge Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge