The bill on structural changes in the Health system was ratified in principle with a majority on Wednesday. The main opposition New Democracy (ND) party, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) voted against.

The discussion on the draft law at the Plenum is continuing on its articles and is expected to be concluded after midnight.

Health minister defends watershed draft bil

A message that “hope emerges from the crisis” and that “Greece is getting stronger” was conveyed by Health Minister Andreas Loverdos on Wednesday, who spoke in Parliament during the debate on a draft law introducing major reforms in the health sector.

Loverdos said voting of the draft law, later on Wednesday, will be a landmark day because “a goal set 27 years ago is finally met by making primary healthcare a reality ... When the state knows what it has to do and is being stopped by trade unions it is an unacceptable situation," he stated, adding that “the essence of the Constitution is now being restored”.

Loverdos pointed out that the health sector is not a “Gordian knot” and things can change “not automatically, but soon”.

On the implementation of the goal set, Loverdos that three dates are critical; today’s voting of the draft law, the introduction of health system online services on March 1 and the hospital mergers and institution of a new admission system on June 30.

Referring to the reaction of the opposition to the draft law, he said that “when the withdrawal of a draft law is being requested on the grounds of being offhand it means that there are no real arguments against it”.

As regards the strike mobilizations, he reiterated that they are being instigated by trade union interests, while on the hospital doctors’ strike he said that participation was less than 2.5 pct because they realized that the health ministry proposals are on the right direction.

Loverdos referred to the reform in the civil servants’ insurance fund OPAD, the pricing of medicine by the health ministry, the introduction of new fees for 10,000 medical practices and the hospital management reform.

He rejected allegations on inadequate dialogue stressing that 33 scientific organizations have participated in it.

As regards the reactions to the regulation concerning hospital procurements, he challenged the argument that “procurements will be privatised”, stressing that those reacting most to the new regulations are the suppliers themselves.

Doctors hold protest rally, march to Parliament

Health sector unions held a rally outside the health ministry on Wednesday, followed by a march to Parliament in order to protest against an omnibus bill for health sector reforms that is to be voted on by Greek MPs on Wednesday night.

Participating in the rally were the Hellenic Medical Asso-ciation, the Federation of Hospital Doctors Unions of Greece, the Athens-Piraeus Hospital Doctors Union, the nationwide IKA-ETAM health staff union federation and the nationwide pharmacists association. They were also joined by striking public transport workers and teachers.

A delegation of doctors presented a resolution outlining their objections to Parliament, after which striking doctors will return to the health ministry on Wednesday afternoon for a general meeting to decide their next course of action. Their representatives said that doctors were determined to continue mobilising even after the bill is passed.

Hospital doctors said they will not cut short a strike that will include Thursday, while IKA doctors are continuing strike action until Friday.

In the meantime, the country's hospitals, health centres, ambulance service, hospices and welfare services will be operating with a skeleton staff from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. on Thursday when the national federation of state hospital staff has called work stoppage. They are demanding higher funding and improvements to the national health service that will give the public free access to health care services, the hiring of necessary permanent staff, a new single wage scale with substantial wage increases, a doubling of pay for holidays and night shifts and inclusion in the heavy and hazardous labour categories.

Also planned are protests against an increase in the fee for hospital out-patient visits to five euros that will include the symbolic closure of cashier desks in hospitals and free examination of patients from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.

According to government regional health authorities, however, nationwide participation in the strike by doctors in hospitals and health centres was just 2.4 percent, while in Attica it was just 2.2 percent.