Public healthcare workers in Madrid downed stethoscopes on Monday as part of a two-day stoppage to protest plans by regional premier Ignacio González to fully privatize six newly built hospitals in the region.
González of the Popular Party (PP) has also introduced an across-the-board, one-euro charge for issuing prescriptions for medicines. Cuts in education and healthcare have already been imposed by the central government on the country's regions as part of its austerity drive.
The labor groups organizing the stoppage estimate the level of adherence at between 80 and 85 percent. The unions agreed to provide minimum coverage of 35 percent of normal services.
At the Ramón y Cajal hospital in the north of the capital, doctors wearing their habitual white robes handed out fliers to passersby explaining the reasons behind the stoppage.
"We want public healthcare for all," said one doctor at the hospital, who asked not to be named. "We have achieved a great deal in the past few years and that is being thrown on the trash pile because of personal reasons."
Many patients admitted to the hospital have signed a petition against the region's plans. One of those was 85-year-old Valentín Huerta. "They're looking to make healthcare only available for the powerful," he said. "We're headed back to where we were 50 years ago."
The region's health department put the rate of adherence to the strike among both healthcare and ancillary workers during the morning shift at only 26.5 percent, with the rate in hospitals 26 percent and 28.6 percent at primary healthcare centers. Healthcare commissioner Javier Fernández-Lasquetty described the stoppage as "irresponsible and unjustified," arguing that the labor unions' reasons for calling it were "absolutely false."