Hundreds of Greek hospital workers, angry at what they described as the “death” of the country’s healthcare system, held a rally in central Athens on Wednesday.
Greek police intervened to stop the 800-strong crowd from gathering at the official offices of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Members of the hospital workers’ union had demanded a meeting with the Greek premier, but their request was denied with one minister denouncing protestors’ banners that portrayed Tsipras as a liar.
Protestors also mockingly celebrated Greece’s ruling coalition’s two years in power by cutting a cake bearing the message: “All they have said is lies, lies, lies.”
Activists accused the government of trying to impose its demands on the health system and of trying to silence opponents.
One nurse, 45-year-old Giorgos Papahristou, told Anadolu Agency a lack of staff and medicines was making the situation worse.
“It is difficult for us who work in this field to witness this because there are no beds; there are no employees to handle the huge amount of incidents in public hospitals,” he said.
A protesting ambulance driver who declined to give his name said there was a “whole collapse in the health system; we want to help and we cannot.
“We get emergency requests and we don’t have drivers to help people in need.”
He said budget cuts and hiring freezes had hit the health service.
The workers’ union cited Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data which claim Greece’s public spending on health amounted to five percent of GDP.
The OECD research says the comparable figure for the U.K. is 7.7 percent, France 8.6 percent and Germany 9.4 percent.
A Greek health ministry budget for 2017, which was tabled just before the end of 2016, could also spell more cuts for the country’s healthcare system.
The draft budget says there could be a decrease to €4.2 billion ($4.5 billion) from €4.3 billion in 2016, a cut of €159 million from the healthcare system.