Tuesday, 11 October 2011

No cancer drugs for fiscal sinners

The reality of austerity

The European Commission has said that its austerity measures are not to blame for a decision by the pharmaceutical giant Roche to halt delivery of cancer drugs to Greek public hospitals. In a fresh example of how the EU austerity measures are having an acute impact on citizens, the Swiss firm has halted shipments of cancer drugs and other medicines to a number of public hospitals in Greece after years of unpaid debts. The company warned that Italy, Portugal and Spain might be next.

With Greek spending on health care accounting for 10 per cent of GDP, the EU, the IMF and European Central Bank have told the government to cut at least €310 million this year and an additional €1.43 billion in the period 2012–15. In February this year doctors and other health-care workers marched on the Greek parliament in protest over health cuts and scuffled with the police.

Meanwhile the European Commission is keen to wash its hands of the problem. “It’s a commercial decision from a company,” the Commission’s spokesperson on health, Frederic Vincent, said. “We would have to see if the countries make any specific request if this problem is conferred to Spain, Italy, Portugal,” he said.

It’s a question of budget management by the 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 would be the same if the drugs dry up in Spain, Italy, and Portugal—and presumably Ireland.

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