Decade of austerity cuts undermined healthcare system

Resident doctors protest during COVID19 crisis in front of Madrid regional Health Ministry. Photo: J.J. Guillén / EFE via Público
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The Spanish section of global rights campaigner Amnesty International has issued a damning report on the gutting of Spain’s public healthcare system through ten years of sustained austerity cuts prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which to date has claimed more than 28,400 lives in Spain and seen at least 257,000 individuals infected with the coronavirus.

In a report released Wednesday, Amnistía Internacional España blames draconian austerity cuts over a ten-year period in the wake of the global financial crisis sparked by the U.S. subprime mortgage debacle for having severely undermined Spain’s public healthcare system.

Those cuts, initiated in the final year of the last Socialist government of then-President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and deepened under two-terms of former President Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Partido Popular (PP), saw spending on public healthcare from 2009-2018 reduced by 11.6 percent, even as the economy recovered by 8.6 percent in the same period.

The Amnesty report, titled La Década Perdida: mapa de austeridad del gasto sanitario en España del 2009 al 2018 (The Lost Decade: Austerity Map of Health Spending in Spain from 2009 to 2018), says that as a result of the decade-long series of austerity cuts, “the right to (public) healthcare is at risk in Spain.”

According to Amnesty, those years of austerity in Spain “have caused a deterioration in the accessibility, affordability and quality of health care and have generated much suffering, especially among people with lower incomes, and within this group among people with chronic illnesses, those with disabilities, those receiving mental health treatment and the elderly.”

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In tandem with the overall reduction in healthcare spending during the 2009-2018 period surveyed by Amnesty, the report says that per capita public healthcare investment also fell on the order of 10.5 percent nationwide.

The “Lost Decade” report gives a detailed breakout of cuts across the healthcare systems of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous regional communities, with an interactive map to reference each of Spain’s regions provided on the organization’s website, here.

Among Spain’s regional communities, says Amnesty, only the Balearic Islands have been able to return to the same level of public healthcare expenditure as in 2009. The communities most impacted by the austerity cuts and which remain furthest from returning to the 2009 levels of spending on healthcare are Castilla La Mancha, Asturias, La Rioja, Galicia and Catalonia, the report says.

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