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Greece health warning after cuts

10 October 11 01:23
People outside the parliament building in Athens protest against any further budget cuts (19 June 2011)
By James Gallagher
Health reporter, BBC News

Researchers have issued a warning about the health of people in Greece in the wake of the financial crisis.

Writing in The Lancet, they said cuts to hospitals' budgets meant they were being overstretched.

More people were reporting "bad health" and HIV infections were on the increase, the authors warned.

While public health experts said the picture was "concerning" they said it could take several years for the true health implications to fully emerge.

Greece has been at the centre of the economic turmoil in Europe and researchers say the austerity measures have taken a toll on health services.

"There were about 40% cuts in hospital budgets, understaffing, reported occasional shortage of medical supplies, and bribes given to medical staff to jump queues in overstretched hospitals," they wrote.

At the same time there was a 24% increase in public hospital admissions, partly fuelled by fewer patients using private hospitals.

An analysis of data from EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions, comparing 2007 and 2009, showed a 15% increase in people not going to a doctor or dentist, mostly due "to long waiting times".

The researchers said: "We noted a significant rise [14%] in the prevalence of people reporting that their health was bad or very bad."

They also reported a decline in the number of people eligible for sickness benefit.

New infections of HIV were expected to increase by 52% in 2011, with half due to intravenous drug use.

Their report concludes: "Ordinary people are paying the ultimate price: losing access to care and preventative services.

"Greater attention to health and healthcare access is needed."

However, there is no data on the actual health of Greek citizens.

Dr Alexander Kentikelenis, of the University of Cambridge, told the BBC: "Many implications will take longer to show. In the Great Depression it took five-plus years for the effects to show in health in the US."

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