Spanish austerity cuts put lives at risk, study finds

Thu Jun 13, 2013 6:58am EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Austerity cuts in Spain could lead to the effective dismantling of large parts of its healthcare system and significantly damage the health of the population, according to a study published on Thursday.

Researchers who analyzed the situation warned that if nothing was done to reverse the trend, Spain risked spiraling health problems and could see increases in infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and the virus that causes AIDS.

As part of the analysis, interviews were conducted with 34 doctors and nurses across Catalonia in northern Spain. Many reported feeling "shocked", "numbed" and "disillusioned" about the cuts, and some expressed fears that "the cuts are going to kill people", the researchers said.

"For five years, policies to address the financial crisis have focused almost entirely on economic indicators," said Martin McKee, professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who co-led the study. "Our paper sheds light on the burden of human suffering that has followed from these policies."

The study published in the British medical Journal (BMJ) found that Spain's national budget cuts of almost 14 percent and regional budget cuts of up to 10 percent in health and social services in 2012 have coincided with increased demands for care, particularly from the elderly, disabled and mentally ill.

The researchers also noted increases in depression, alcohol-related disorders and suicides in Spain since the financial crisis hit and unemployment increased.

"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," said Helena Legido-Quigley, a lecturer in Global Health at LSHTM who worked with McKee.

The findings in Spain chime with other studies in Europe and North America which found budget cuts had a devastating effect on health, driving up suicides, depression and infectious diseases and reducing access to medicines and care.   Continued...