THE Spanish government’s austerity reforms could lead to an increase in infectious diseases, significantly damaging the health of the population.
This is according to recent research published in the British Medical Journal, which warned that if the current trend does not change there is a risk Spain will see spiralling health problems.
Researchers fear national budget cuts may result in the effective dismantling of large parts of the country’s healthcare system. This could lead to the rise of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV, with the country struggling to deal with increased demand on already stretched resources
Part of the analysis involved interviews with 34 doctors and nurses across Catalonia. Many reported feeling ‘shocked’, ‘numbed’ and ‘disillusioned’ about the cuts and expressed fears that ‘the cuts are going to kill people’.
Lead author of the study Dr Helena Legido-Quigley said: “We are seeing detrimental effects on the health of the Spanish people and, if no corrective measures are implemented, this could worsen with the risk of increases in HIV and tuberculosis – as we have seen in Greece where healthcare services have had severe cuts – as well as the risk of a rise in drug resistance and spread of disease.”
The research noted that cuts to healthcare and social services of almost 14% at the national level and of 10% at the regional level in 2012 coincided with an increase in demand for care. This was especially true for the elderly, the disabled and the mentally ill.
It also highlighted the fact that Spain already had one of the lowest public expenditures on healthcare relative to GDP in the European Union, and pointed out that planned further cuts would put vulnerable people at even greater risk.
Other planned healthcare changes include excluding unofficial immigrants from accessing free health services and increasing payments by patients for extra treatments such as drugs, prosthetics and some ambulance trips.
“For five years, policies to address the financial crisis have focused almost entirely on economic indicators,” said Professor Martin McKee, co-author of the report. “Our paper sheds light on the burden of human suffering that has followed from these policies.”