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Protesters stage huge rally in Madrid for better healthcare

February 12, 2023

Hundreds of thousands flooded the streets of Madrid to protest what they see as a push by the conservative regional government to dismantle public healthcare.

Protesters march in downtown Madrid against the public health care policy of the regional government
Organizers said close to a million people marched in an attempt to boost spending on public healthcareImage: Violeta Santos Moura/REUTERS

Health workers and their supporters rallied in central Madrid on Sunday, accusing the right-wing regional government of trying to destroy the public health system in the Spanish capital.

More than 250,000 people took part in the demonstration, the government said, while organizers put the turnout at close to a million.

Demonstrators filled the downtown Plaza Cibeles area, chanting and waving flags. Many carried homemade signs with messages like "The right to health is a human right. Defend the health service."

One demonstrator sported a huge model of Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the right-wing leader of the Madrid regional government, with a Pinocchio-like nose attached.

Protesters march against failing public health care in Madrid on February 12, 2023
One protester held up a giant caricature of Madrid regional head Isabel Diaz AyusoImage: Alejandro Martínez Vélez/EUROPA PRESS/dpa/picture alliance

"In Spain, the public health system used to be very good," Madrid resident Ana Santamaria told the AFP news agency. "But in recent years it has really deteriorated, particularly since the pandemic."

Waiting lists, overworked doctors

Unions and left-wing parties complain about long patient waiting lists and a shortage of staff in health centers, forcing patients to overwhelm hospital emergency departments. Many government critics believe the conservatives are dismantling the system.

"The situation is dramatic... We can't take proper care of the patients," nurse Maite Lopez told AFP.

Diaz Ayuso's opponents say her administration spends the least amount per capita on primary health care of any Spanish region even though it has the highest per capita income.

For every €2 spent on health care in Madrid, one ends up in the private sector, according to protest organizers.

Madrid leader blames upcoming election for protests

Ayuso denies the accusation and wrote on Twitter on Sunday: "We all believe in public health."

She alleges the protests are motivated by the political interests of left-wing rivals ahead of May regional elections across most of Spain.

Spain has a hybrid healthcare system but the public sector is larger than the private one and is considered a basic pillar of the state.

The governments of the regional autonomous communities are responsible for a large part of the health budget as part of the country's devolved political system.

The protest movement against health-care cuts has gathered strength through regular protests in recent months.

Another protest Sunday in Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain, saw some 20,000 health workers take part.

Some doctors and pediatricians have been striking on and off since November, with the Amyts doctors' union in Madrid seeking better working conditions and pay.

mm/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters)