Saturday

24th Sep 2022

Austerity cuts not to blame for Greek drug shortage, EU says

  • Cancer drugs. Roche: 'Shipments are halted to those who are not paying anything' (Photo: Derek K. Miller)

The European Commission has said its austerity measures are not to blame for a decision by pharmaceutical giant Roche to halt delivery of cancer drugs to Greek public hospitals. The company warned Italy, Portugal and Spain might be next.

In a fresh example of how the eurozone crisis is having an acute impact on citizens, Swiss firm Roche has halted shipments of cancer drugs and other medicines to a number of public hospitals in Greece after years of unpaid debts.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Roche spokeswoman Claudia Schmidt told EUobserver it took action in Greece after July but that unpaid invoices go back to 2007. Under the scheme, patients must buy medicine at pharmacies if they can afford them and return to a hospital to have the drugs administered.

She said her company is trying to be flexible: "Let’s say a hospital owes €2 million to €3 million, but they can pay €300,000, then they would receive that amount for a certain time period. Shipments are halted to those who are not paying anything."

She added the situation in Greece is the most acute but other crisis-hit countries might be next: "If needed, we will talk to all stakeholders in Spain to try to find solutions. There are also outstanding debts in Portugal and Italy, but not in the range of Greece."

Ireland, which like Greece and Portugal is under an EU-IMF bailout, has not had any trouble paying bills.

With Greek healthcare spending currently accounting for 10 percent of GDP, the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank have told Athens to cut at least €310 million this year and an additional €1.43 billion in the 2012-2015 period. The troika of bailout sponsors have also told it to boost the use of generic drugs.

In February this year, doctors and other health care workers marched on the Greek parliament in protest over health cuts and scuffled with police.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is keen to wash its hands of the cancer drugs problem.

"It’s a commercial decision from a company," commission health spokesman Frederic Vincent told reporters in Brussels. "We would have to see if the countries make any specific request if this problem is conferred to Spain, Italy, Portugal," he added, noting that the EU has little-to-no powers over national healthcare plans.

Economy spokesman Amadeu Altafaj-Tardiosaid the EU-IMF bail-out has stumped up enough money for Greece to service its hospitals and that the shortage is a question of bad management in Athens.

"We’re not being insensitive. It’s a question of management of the budget by Greek authorities. Greece has money," he explained. "The financial assistance package decided one year ago covers the financial needs of the Greek state. Then how this is micro-managed is the full responsibility of the Greek authorities."

He added that the case woud be the same if the drugs dry up in Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Another EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, commented: "It’s not European or international austerity that is causing this."

The contact added: "What has to be kept clear here is that before the crisis, Greece had some of the most expensive drugs in Europe - in the whole world - because of dysfunctions in the system, corruption in the medical profession ... It was an abuse of the Greek citizens."

EU task force for Greece ‘here to help, not control’

The head of an EU task force for Greece said on Thursday that the aim of the newly established body is to support the country as it attempts to slash its public debts. The team arrived in Athens as fresh figures put unemployment in the country at a record 16.3 percent, with 32.9 percent of young people out of work.

Brussels calls for still more austerity

Most states have slashed tens of billions from their public spending plans already, but this may not be enough according to an annual report from the EU executive.

Ordinary Greeks turning to NGOs as health system hit by austerity

As impoverished Greek citizens lose access to healthcare, they have started to turn to temporary clinics set up by the likes of Medecins Sans Frontieres and Medecins du Monde - clinics that had been intended to come to the aid of migrants and refugees.

Podcast

How Europe helped normalise Georgia Meloni

Should Georgia Meloni be considered neofascist? She insists she's a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she's prime minister, she's expected to respect Italy's democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU.

Editorial

Background reads: Italy's election

With Italy heading to the ballot boxes this Sunday, let's take a look at what EUobserver has published that can help understand the country's swing to the (far)-right.

News in Brief

  1. More Russians now crossing Finnish land border
  2. Report: EU to propose €584bn energy grid upgrade plan
  3. Morocco snubs Left MEPs probing asylum-seeker deaths
  4. EU urges calm after Putin's nuclear threat
  5. Council of Europe rejects Ukraine 'at gunpoint' referendums
  6. Lithuania raises army alert level after Russia's military call-up
  7. Finland 'closely monitoring' new Russian mobilisation
  8. Flights out of Moscow sell out after Putin mobilisation order

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  5. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling

Latest News

  1. Ireland joins EU hawks on Russia, as outrage spreads
  2. Editor's weekly digest: Plea for support edition
  3. Investors in renewables face uncertainty due to EU profits cap
  4. How to apply the Nuremberg model for Russian war crimes
  5. 'No big fish left' for further EU sanctions on Russians
  6. Meloni's likely win will not necessarily strengthen Orbán
  7. France latest EU member to step up government spending in 2023
  8. Big Tech now edges out Big Energy in EU lobbying

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us