Management at eight hospitals operated by the Catalan Health Institute (ICS) have ordered their medical teams to restrict most hospital admissions due to cuts ordered by the regional government. At the same time, officials at these centers are finding ways to reduce other healthcare costs by advancing patient discharge dates from hospitals and eliminating additional tests, such as MRIs, X-rays, CAT scans and nuclear medicine examinations that are used to reaffirm a medical diagnosis.
"No patient will be put at risk in order to save on a CAT scan," said a spokesman for the Union of Physicians. "But officials at these public hospitals only want to meet their budgets and making sure it won't affect the system. But either way, the patient will be affected," he warned.
The CCOO and UGT labor unions said that similar money-saving measures are taking place at other public and private hospitals.
"Doctors cannot base their diagnosis on these types of arrangements or approve early discharges when there are also cutbacks at hospital emergency rooms and in ambulance services," a union spokesman said.
Citizens are still staging sit-ins in protest at the cuts at half a dozen primary care centers, mostly in the region of La Selva. In some cases, practitioners themselves are rejecting the measures that are being imposed by hospital officials.
"We will just be admitting and testing patients with the usual medical criteria, but without thinking about the cuts they're asking from us," summarized Jordi Martí, union representative at Hospital Arnau de Vilanova de Lleida.
"Every hospital has its own list of cuts based on the type of patients they have. They just don't know where else to cut," said Juan García, the UGT official in charge of healthcare.
The Catalan government defended its actions as merely ordering hospital officials to make budgetary adjustments without imposing the form in which they should be applied.
"We do not know the needs of every hospital. We haven't given any specific order where these cuts should be made, but we trust they will make them where needed. We don't want to get involved in the day-to-day operations of each health center," said a Catalan health department spokesman.
Department chief Boi Ruiz has applied a 10-percent across-the-board cut, which amounts to about 1 billion eurosin savings.
"There is no evidence that citizens have been stressed out because of these cuts," Ruiz said on Tuesday.
The ICS, meanwhile, also said that each health center has its own responsibility to determine where to apply these cuts and that they have not been given specific instructions.
Marina Geli, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) official in charge of healthcare policy and a former regional health commissioner, warned that there would be serious consequences.
"Where have all the sick people gone? Have they just disappeared?" she asked.
The PSC said it would demand information from the regional government, which is run by Artur Mas of the Catalan nationalist CiU bloc, to determine what type of aftereffects Catalonia can expect, especially now that the flu season is just around the corner.