State sector doctors throughout Greece announced lengthy strikes on Thursday in protest against the government's proposed changes and reforms to the state healthcare system.

Their action includes an indefinite strike by doctors at the Social Insurance Foundation (IKA), which covers the vast majority of Greece's workers and pensioners and a week-long strike until next Thursday by hospital doctors in Athens and Piraeus. This will coincide with a three-day nationwide strike next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday by the Federation of Hospital Doctors of Greece and a 48-hour strike declared this Thursday and Friday by the Athens medical association. Also on strike for 24 hours on Friday are IKA health service staff.

Doctors' associations gave a press conference on Thursday from the amphitheatre of the health ministry, where they have staged an occupation. Among those present was the head of the Attica Pharmacists' Association Constantinos Lourantos, who said that doctors and pharmacists were fighting a common fight.

Striking doctors are demanding that the government withdraw a draft bill making IKA clinics a part of the overall National Health System and want dialogue to start from scratch, while they accuse the minister of trying to set up last-minute and makeshift strike-breaking mechanisms that he has failed to think through.

Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, on his part, has ruled out all prospect of withdrawing the draft legislation that he says "brings doctors closer to the citizen".

As a measure to reduce the impact of the strike, from next Monday IKA patients will be allowed to ask for treatment from the 12,500 doctors of the Civil Servants' Fund OPAD and the 4,500 doctors that have contracts with the freelance workers' fund OAEE, as well as health centres and hospital out-patient clinics. The doctors that provide their services will then be paid by IKA.

The Athens and Piraeus medical associations, however, have threatened to take disciplinary action against any OPAD or OAEE doctors that agree to take IKA patients.

On the other hand, the Panhellenic Medical Society of National Health System managers has written a letter to Loverdos expressing their disagreement with the stance adopted by the doctors.

They reject the scenes at the health ministry since the doctors' occupation began on Monday as "irrational" and stressed that the draft bill is the first effort to complete and improve the services provided by the NHS in several years. They also point out that a national organisation for providing healthcare services is a demand going back several years.

"It is a known fact that social insurance funds currently spend more than 10 billion euro for services that are not checked or assessed while insured citizens do not receive the services necessary to them," the letter points out, saying that the reactions were sabotaging all attempts to modernise and improve a system "condemned by its inadequacy".

Based on health data figures for 2007 supplied by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Greece spent 9.7 percent of GDP or 2,687 U.S. dollars per capita on health care in that year, with public health care accounting for 60.3 percent of total health care costs. A study published in 2008, meanwhile, (Private health expenditure in the Greek health care system: Where truth ends and the myth begins, Health Policy December 2008) said that informal payments in public hospitals accounted for up to 20 percent of privately financed hospital care, while 66 percent of private household health expenditure was for outpatient services and dental services.

LA.OS raps state-sector doctors’ strikes

Opposition Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) on Thursday lashed out at striking public sector doctors, a group of whom has launched a sit-in demonstration inside the health ministry building, stressing that such behaviour is unbecoming of health professionals.

State sector physicians throughout Greece have announced strikes to protest against government proposed changes and reforms to the state healthcare system.