Barcelona doctors, ill patients protest health cuts

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Doctors and sick patients threw fire crackers and blew whistles Wednesday in a second day of noisy protests in Barcelona against crisis spending cuts that have shut down hospitals.

A 600-strong crowd outside the regional health department waved banners and shouted for local politicians to resign. Another 700 protested near a major hospital in the Bellvitge district, causing a huge traffic jam.

"I want to live, don't cut short my life," read the banner waved by one protestor, Antonio Moreno Navarro, 65, who is suffering from bladder cancer.

He told AFP he was sent home at the last minute when he turned up for an operation.

"I was almost in the surgery when they sent me home because there was no anaesthetic," he said. "It's the kind of thing that happens all the time."

The autonomous but centrally-funded Spanish regions are being pressed by the central government to make cuts to their budgets to rein in Spain's huge deficit. In some regions, health and education services are being hit.

Health staff in the northeastern Catalonia region, which included Barcelona, say crisis measures have cut 100 million euros ($135 million), 10 percent of the regional health budget.

"Healthcare is collapsing," said Javier Leonardi, a surgeon, above the din of Wednesday's protest at the regional health ministry.

"With a few exceptions, all the procedures that are not urgent or for cancer treatment are suspended indefinitely" due to the cuts, he said, protesting on the second day of a two-day strike.

On Tuesday too, hundreds of doctors in white coats and other health workers demonstrated, blocking traffic in Barcelona.

The Catalonia health workers' union MC said more than 70 percent of the 16,500 staff who were called on to strike did so on Tuesday and Wednesday. The regional health authority put the figure at 20 percent.

Protests have escalated ahead of Sunday's general election, expected to be won by the conservative Popular Party. It has promised a programme of austerity cuts, though its leader Mariano Rajoy said health and education will be spared.

Among the indignant patients at Wednesday's demonstration was Hortensia Clemente, who has to wear an oxygen mask at night for life-long breathing problems, and now also has problems with her heart.

"I am demonstrating with the doctors because the effects of the cuts are already being felt," she said, especially by the "chronically ill ones who are suffering from this most of all".

© 2011 AFP

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