Hundreds of thousands of protesters demonstrated in Madrid on Sunday to defend the region’s public health system, which they say is under threat from the conservative regional government.
Well-known artists, whole families with children and grandparents, politicians, trade unionists and health workers joined the march.
A regional government spokesman said 200,000 people attended, but organizers estimated the total was more than triple.
Aerial views over the main boulevards leading to City Hall showed a vast sea of protesters pouring in from all directions.
Why are the residents of Madrid protesting?
Unions say basic services in the Madrid area have been under tremendous pressure for years due to a lack of resources and staffing due to austerity measures imposed during the country’s financial crisis a decade ago.
Union officials say health care has been deteriorated by poor management and that the regional government plans to further restructure the system to allow for more public-private partnerships in health care.
Authorities also want to step up online emergency care due to staff shortages at public health centers.
“What they are doing is an unprecedented catastrophe,” Monica Garcia of the far-left Mas Madrid party told reporters.
“There is a very simple way to retain professionals and that is to treat them well: give them contracts that are not just for a month, a week or a weekend. When a government is unable to do that, it’s because they have political interests at work,” Garcia added.
Regional leader Ayuso singled out
In addition to more investments in healthcare, the demonstrators also called for the resignation of the right-wing regional head of government in Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso.
The Iron Lady of Madrid has attracted support and opposition with its populist rhetoric, accusing left-wing politicians of being communists and nurses being lazy.
The left-wing national government backed Saturday’s protests, saying regional authorities led by Ayuso were responsible for the “disastrous management” of Madrid’s public health system.
“Madrid is the region that invests the least in health per capita,” said Cabinet Minister Felix Bolanos. “The national average is 1,700 euros per inhabitant, in Madrid it is 1,300 euros.”
Bolanos added that Madrid is also the region with the fewest doctors and nurses per capita.
Strike action extends to general practitioners
The protest comes ahead of a planned strike by nearly 5,000 regional GPs and paediatricians scheduled for November 21 due to work overload, endless appointments and a lack of time for patients.
“The cuts already made since 2010 are devastating for public health. The situation is now untenable,” a doctor from the Hospital de la Princesa told Spanish news agency Europa Press.
They will join an earlier strike by medical staff over the new model for out-of-hospital emergency centers, some of which have only offered video consultations due to staff shortages.
mm/aw (AFP, AP dpa)