Cancer patients and people suffering from permanent illnesses in Greece have remained without medicines due to the preoccupation with election passions resulting from the spectacular failure of parties to form a government.
For almost a month now, these people and their families have been desperately going from one pharmacy to another and from one hospital to another to find the necessary medicines. In some cases, they find them, albeit belatedly. But there are also cases, when they fail to obtain the necessary medicines and put their treatment at a huge risk.
However, all those insured with the national health care system are facing the problem with the lack of medicines as pharmacists are refusing to provide free drugs before the state pays its obligations to them. In their words, the amount is around 950 million euro. For a week now, patients have been paying the entire amount for drugs, not knowing when and if they will get their money back from the health insurance fund. Far more dramatic is the situation of minimum income pensioners, whose pensions have been cut and they are not able to pay in cash.
In search of the causes of the problem, GRReporter contacted the president of the Union of Pharmacists of Attica Konstantinos Lourandos. He explained that pharmaceutical companies have stopped consigning drugs to hospitals because of state obligations to them too.
"Under the new law, cancer patients are supplied with drugs from hospitals. The government has not first tried to secure funds and then to put it into effect. So, hospital pharmacies are not able to supply drugs because of low budgets. On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies do not consign medicines to hospitals owing large amounts to them. They insist on paying the obligations first."
Many hospitals send the patients away, saying they do not avail the wanted drugs. They also say the patients should seek them in private clinics. There, they must pay in cash for the drugs but their prices are very high and can reach 7 thousand euro per month.
A few days ago, social media published telephone numbers, which cancer patients can call to seek help.
"The Pharmaceutical Union of Attica decided to help solve the problem. Therefore, we have set up a bureau to support the citizens and opened special telephone lines. People who cannot find their medicines can receive information from us. We are in contact with pharmaceutical companies. They inform us which hospitals they have supplied with their medicines and we tell the people which hospital to turn to."
Konstantinos Lourandos said that many people who had lost close ones due to cancer provide free of charge the medicines left in their houses to those who need them. "It is very important when a medicine is not available in any hospital. Dozens of citizens call us every day. We will continue to help until this problem is resolved. This can happen only through supplying hospital pharmacies with all drugs, not only with drugs necessary for the treatment of the patients of a particular hospital. There are hospitals availing medicines for cancer, but they are kept in store for the people treated there. Cancer patients turn to them for help, but the hospitals do not give the drugs to them because they are used for the treatment of their patients."
Despite the serious consequences on public health, pharmacists do not intend to again supply their customers with free medicines. Konstantinos Lourandos has stated firmly that their protest will not be suspended before the national system for health services pays to them its obligations accumulated from 2011.
As expected, the problem with the lack of drugs for cancer patients has made political leaders respond, though belatedly. However, their opinions differ even on this very serious social issue. Antonis Samaras urged pharmacists and drug manufacturers to "be reasonable" and recommended the caretaker Prime Minister "in any way possible to find resources to ensure the allocation of medicines to insured persons and mostly to those having serious and chronic diseases."
Recent PASOK Minister of Health Andreas Loverdos called for convening a meeting of representatives of political parties headed by the official minister in order to find a solution to the problem. He expressed his opinion that it is all due to the lack of government that "would immediately solve the problem with medicines for cancer patients. The interim government cannot take such a decision."
SYRIZA representatives, who have decided that they are fully ready to govern the state, only criticized Loverdos’ suggestion without offering anything particular to solve the problem. Independent Greeks said that the lack of drugs was due to the Memorandum and the Communist Party urged for the removal of all bureaucratic procedures and for distributing the medicines for cancer patients through the national system for health services.
Its president, George Voudouris, brought a gleam of hope for cancer patients. He announced earlier today that the Ministry of Health was able to agree with one of the largest international pharmaceutical companies, which holds about 80% of the market of medicines for cancer patients in Greece. It is expected to begin to gradually import the medicines and each time, their quantity will be limited to the amount deposited.
However, there is a problem with the supply of basic medicines and materials to pharmacies and hospitals. The situation is not yet clear. GRReporter has undertaken to study it following the signal of our reader Radka Moneva for which we thank her.