HUNDREDS of thousands of people came out to protest on the streets of Madrid today, to denounce what they called the ‘dismantling’ of the region’s public healthcare system by the government of Popular Party premier Isabel Diaz Ayuso.
According to the government delegation in Madrid, the march attracted 250,000 people, while the organisers estimated that there were more than a million people, news agency Europa Press reported.
If those figures – which were calculated using images from drones – are correct, the turnout will have exceeded a previous demonstration for the same cause held on November 13. The official figure for that protest was 200,000, while organisers claimed that 670,000 people were present.
Protestors blew whistles, wore white gloves and beat drums, while chanting slogans calling for Ayuso – as well as her health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero – to quit. The pair, the demonstrators claimed, had left ‘more than a million Madrileños without a doctor or paediatrician in the primary healthcare system’.
Starting at 12pm, the massive march began from various points of the city, including Nuevos Ministerios in the north, Plaza de España in the west and Legazpi from the south. The demonstrators all came together in the central Plaza de Cibeles, which is home to Madrid’s City Hall.
The march was supported by more than 74 social organisations, as well as the country’s main trade unions UGT and CCOO. There were also representatives from leftist parties such as the Socialists (PSOE), Unidas Podemos and Mas Madrid.
From the central government, Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto was in attendance. ‘Ayuso and [Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez] Almeida have to see that there is a majority that has come out to protect public healthcare,’ she said in comments reported by Spanish daily El Pais. ‘The mayor is making a mistake by not listening to the social majority. This city needs better public services to attend to urgent cases.’
The demonstration comes as strikes by healthcare workers continue, with some 4,240 family doctors and 720 paediatricians involved in stoppages since November 21 in protest at cuts to the system and reorganisation carried out in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
They are calling for an allotted time of at least 10 minutes per patient as well as a limit on their timetables, and an improvement in pay and conditions to avoid healthcare professionals leaving to work in other countries.
A ‘political strike’
The regional government, meanwhile, has been dismissing the industrial action as a ‘political strike’ and has accused healthcare staff of refusing to reach an agreement in order to ‘stretch out’ the action until the local and regional elections due to be held this May.
Speaking at an event in Malaga on Sunday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez spoke out in support of the defence of a ‘worthy, quality and universal’ public healthcare system, compared to the PP’s model, which he said was one of ‘privatisations and cutbacks’.
While he didn’t directly reference the march in Madrid, he claimed that his Socialist Party-led government ‘defends a dignified public health system’.
General secretary of the PP Alfonso Serrano, meanwhile, said on Sunday that the regional government will continue to work to ‘improve and reinforce’ Madrid’s public healthcare system despite the ‘noise, shouting and attempts by the left to keep tensions high’.