We will keep doing our job...”
Those of us who founded, staffed and strengthened the Community Clinics (CCs) throughout the country, notwithstanding different political affiliations, converged on a few basic principles, and made our vision into a reality. We created direct democratic, politically and economically autonomous collectives, which were opposed to the policy of downgrading the National Health Care System, not only in words but in actions. Actions so remarkable and unprecedented, that they attracted journalists and activists from throughout Europe, who publicised our work globally. We even managed to achieve this without pandering to «the poor Greek hit by the crisis». We instead denounced, using decidedly antifascist and antiracist reasoning, state crimes and their perpetrators. Essentially, we defended the core of medical ethics, calling all health care professionals not to obey orders to exclude patients.
Certainly, the people of the CCs feel deeply relieved at the fall of the Samaras-Venizelos government; a government which led to the deaths of many and dramatically increased morbidity rates. The exclusion of the uninsured from the National Health Care System did not only cost lives, but victimised the people who, besides their poverty, now had to withstand shame when turned away from hospitals because they were unable to pay. After these grim three years, during which Community Clinics unconditionally provided primary health care to all uninsured (Greeks and immigrants), now is the time for their main demand to be met by the new Ministry of Health which, as soon as it was put in place, announced free and equal access for all to the National Health Care System.
The wish to abolish ourselves
Our secret wish was to «one day abolish ourselves», meaning that one day our struggle for the reclamation of a public health care system open to all would succeed, so that society would not have to depend upon «voluntary» initiatives, no matter how radical these may be. The question is whether this day is near... I think that, on the one hand, interventions in health care by a government of the Left, if indeed they are «of the Left», will be met with open hostility by vested interests while, on the other hand, the time required for changes to become visible is quite long. Even if financing (which must be generous, because health care is costly) is secured, months will pass before:
a) the laws privatising health care and demolishing the primary health care network are abolished (such as that for ESAN – see note – and that for the reform of the primary health care networks)
b) staffing gaps, in medical, nursing and auxiliary staff, amounting to hundreds, will be filled using robust evaluation criteria
c) The corrupt structures profiting from hospitals for decades will be dismantled
In this sense, CCs need to continue supporting society for as long as society needs them, and to stand alongside the movements within hospitals in the struggle towards a health care system that is truly public, truly universal, and offering quality health care services. The CCs’ continued existence is necessary for yet another reason. Because they set an example of an effort which can, at the same time, be incredibly productive and functional, without being governed by chairmen and management boards, without party political staffs and elections, with a horizontal structure and cross-sectoral decision making, away from the medico-centric model. CCs can be a source of inspiration for the new National Health Care System, and act as living proof of what people can create when participating in collectives equally, when they feel that their work is being recognized, when they reap the rewards of the visible result of their work, and when they breathe the air of freedom wherever they can create. This inspiration is sorely needed in the National Health Care System, which is tired, degraded and maligned, in need of an injection of #joy, such as that all of us in CCs enjoy sometimes...
Let us hope, therefore, that «that day will not come too late», and until then we will continue to fight alongside our partners for everyone’s right to health, inspired by the Zapatista slogan, which says that «in order to fight, you need a bit of shame, some dignity and a lot of organisation».
Translator’s note: ESAN A.E. is a company, of which the Greek public sector owns a 51% share, which was set up by the Samaras government to make financing decisions for the National Health Care System, in an effort to reduce state funding of hospitals, with a view to all state funding being withdrawn by 2020. It has been announced by the Syriza government that this company will soon cease to exist.
Christina Kydona is a hospital doctor, member of the Community Clinic of Thessaloniki