Hundreds of thousands demonstrate in Madrid against public health cuts

OVIEDO, Spain

Hundreds of thousands of protesters choked central Madrid on Sunday in support of the region’s public health services.

Organizers say 670,000 people took to the streets, while the government estimates around 200,000 protesters showed up.

Under the motto ‘Madrid stands up to defend public health’, residents of the Madrid region expressed their outrage at the Conservative government’s cuts and plans for public health in the region.

For nearly a week, doctors working in Madrid’s 24-hour clinics have been on strike to denounce “the chaos” of a plan to add more clinics without hiring enough staff. They say doctors are unable to properly serve patients under current conditions.

Unions representing around 5,000 family doctors in Madrid also said they would join the indefinite strike from November 21.

“Madrid’s public health is in critical condition. We have gone from the applause of the pandemic to being totally forgotten,” Monica, a nurse, told Spanish television channel RTVE during the protest on Sunday.

Although Madrid is one of the wealthiest regions in Spain, it has the second lowest ratio of family doctors per person in the country. It is bottom of the list when it comes to nurses and spends the second-to-last amount of money on public health care per capita.

Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the region’s leader, who has been accused of trying to dismantle the public health system, called the strikes a “boycott” and said the protests were politically motivated.

Ayuso also came under heavy criticism from members of the health sector when she became Spain’s most outspoken political leader to speak out against lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, protesters carried large caricatures of the Madrid leader and chanted her resignation.

One of the protesters included famed director Pedro Almodovar. Speaking to Spanish daily El Pais, he said he was marching because “the issue of public health is absolutely cross-cutting and concerns everyone”.

Sunday’s massive protest also included a minute’s silence for the thousands of people who lost their lives in Madrid’s nursing homes during the pandemic.

In 2020, people in Madrid saw their life expectancy drop more dramatically than anywhere else in Europe – from 85.8 to 82.3 years – according to Eurostat.

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