According to a report published by The Lancet, signs have indicated that health outcomes during the financial crisis in Greece have worsened, particularly in groups that are vulnerable. The report was written by Dr David Stuckler and Alexander Kentikelenis, University of Cambridge, UK, and Professor Martin McKee, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and team.

Based on European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions, the data reveals that in 2009, citizens of Greece were 15% more likely not to consult a physician compared to in 2007 before the crisis occurred. This decrease seemed to be linked to factors, including travel distance, waiting to feel better and long waiting times, rather than the financial pressures of not being able to afford health care.

In Greece, the universal health system allows individuals to receive free consultations with a GP, and visits to outpatient clinics are extremely cheap (0 to 5 Euros per visit). The researchers believe the reductions in access observed are most likely due to supply-side problems. In the country there were cuts of approximately 40% in hospital budgets, reported occasional shortages of medical supplies, serious staffing problems, as well as individuals bribing medical personnel in order to jump the lines in overstretched hospitals.

Greece has a population of 11.3 million, it borders Albania, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the east

In 2010, admissions to public hospitals rose by 24% in comparison with 2009. In addition, during the first half of 2011 admissions also increased by 8% compared with the same period of 2010. Shockingly, the number of Greek citizens who stated that their health was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ increased by 14% in 2009 in comparison with 2007. In 2009 suicide rates increased by 17% compared to 2007, furthermore, unofficial 2010 data quoted in parliament explained this figure had jumped to 25% in comparison with 2009. Compared to the same period in 2010, The Minister of Health reported a 40% rise in the first half of 2011.

Additional shocking signs include the increase in theft , violence, and homicide rates, which between 2007 and 2009 have almost doubled. The number of individuals who were able to get sickness benefits dropped by approximately 40% between 2007 and 2009, most likely because of budget cuts.

In late 2010 there was a considerable rise in the total number of newly diagnosed HIV infections, which according to the latest data will rise by 52% in 2011 in comparison to 2010 (922 new cases vs. 605), with half of the increases seen at present caused by infections among intravenous drug users. Data revealed that for the first 7 months of 2011, there was a ten times higher increase in infections among these drug users, compared to the first 7 months in 2010.

According to estimates from the Greek Documentation and Monitoring Center for Drugs, the incidence of heroin use reportedly increase by 20% in 2009, from 20,000 individuals to 24,100.

The researchers point out that not everything is negative. There have been noted reductions in the consumption of alcohol, and according to police records, driving under the influence of alcohol has also decreased. These decreases are not a result of budget cuts in the police force, as police checks remained the same, and in 2009 more drivers were screened than in 2008.

The researchers conclude:

“Overall, the picture of health in Greece is concerning. It reminds us that, in an effort to finance debts, ordinary people are paying the ultimate price: losing access to care and preventive services, facing higher risks of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and in the worst cases losing their lives. Greater attention to health and health-care access is needed to ensure that the Greek crisis does not undermine the ultimate source of the country’s wealth, its people.”

In 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the Greek healthcare system as the 14th best in overall assessment and the 11th at quality service, worldwide – at that time it was seen as better than those of the UK and Germany.

In 2010 the country had 138 hospitals and 31,000 beds. On 1st July this year the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity said it planned to reduce the number of hospitals to 77 and beds to 36,035. In 2007 Greece spent 9.6% of its GDP on health, just over the OECD average of 9.5%.

Greece has the largest number of doctors-to-population ratio of any country in the OECD.

Written by Grace Rattue