Hippocrates Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Among the crises inflicting Greece today we must include the crisis in the health system. To borrow from a medical analogy, the crisis in the health system is a cancer on the Greek body politic. Like many cancers, symptoms existed long before the recent diagnosis. Even in times of apparent economic health, the Greek health system was far from healthy.
For years now, the Greek public health system has been plagued by debts and corruption, effected, if not with official connivance, with toleration. One of the key places a typical Greek will pay a bribe (among, of course, others) is to a physician at a public hospital. Bribes are so commonplace as to be accepted as part of the cost of treatment. The patient, or his family, who is not prepared to pay a bribe may be directly endangering their health. As the system further deteriorates, even bribes are less effective than they used to be.
Greek public hospitals for nearly a decade have been known as the deadbeats of Europe within the pharmaceutical community. Companies would often wait for years to receive payment, and often as not the state would reduce the amount paid to the companies. Greece’s already ballooning debt increases further when considering the several billion EUR of liabilities in this sector. Not surprisingly, pharmaceutical companies padded their invoices to make up for the late payment terms, and often enough kickbacks and bribes demanded by public servants, government officials and doctors would further increase the costs, stretching the finances of the state health system, again, even in apparently healthier economic times.
It was not uncommon, even in the good old days, for hospitals to have shortages of vital medicines and more mundane items such as bandages and toilet paper. Often enough, patients bring their own! The debt-plagued procurement system was a key reason but another reason stands out: outright theft by doctors and hospital staff. It is not uncommon for those employed in public hospitals to help themselves to white goods or common medicines at the hospital. Oversight? Not here, most hospitals lacked even the rudiments of bookkeeping; without a paper trail, how do you prove something is missing or stolen? The EU Commissions first Quarterly Report from the Task Force for Greece diplomatically cites a “concern . . . as [to] the efficiency of and access to the healthcare system.” They further talk about the need to rein in expenditures and “implement best practices,” etc. They could go much further and talk about the blatant graft by procurers, hospital staff, and even by holders of the Hippocratic Oath.
So, the story is the same here. Bribes, graft, and a willful lack of professionalism or oversight conspire to make Greece’s health system increasingly dangerous to your health. It simply did not have to be that way. Greece, in spite of the debt and eroding competitiveness, did make considerable strides in its standard of living. Greece has one of the highest percentages of doctors to population in Europe, and therefore the world. In spite of the onslaught of junk food and stress-inducing lifestyles, the Greek diet and climate is very conducive to good health. Greece’s health crisis is, rather, a subset of its general crisis, which is not primarily financial but rather civic and civil.
As for Hippocrates, he clearly doesn’t live here anymore.