Magistrates decide to maintain freeze on Madrid hospital privatization

Regional tribunal passes appeals back to courts of origin

A protestor defends public heathcare outside the Madrid regional High Court.
A protestor defends public heathcare outside the Madrid regional High Court.JUAN MEDINA (REUTERS)

The 43 judges who make up the Administrative Litigation Division of the Madrid regional High Court (TSJM) in just a few hours on Thursday reached a majority decision to send back the seven appeals affecting the privatization of parts of the region’s healthcare system to their courts of origin, TSJM sources have revealed.

The decision constitutes backing for a precautionary suspension of the privatization process, which has been on hold since September. The full content of the division’s rulings will become known in the coming hours.

The session to resolve the appeals relating to the passing of six public hospitals into private hands began at around 9.45am Thursday morning and, in barely three hours, magistrates decided to return them to the courts from which they came.

Among these is the lower Administrative Litigation court that in September agreed to suspend the privatization process upon the request of the Madrid Association of Specialist Doctors (AFEM). It will thus be this court that decides whether to lift the suspension, as the regional government has requested in one of the appeals, or maintain it, as AFEM defends.

Among the other appeals relating to the April 30, 2013 resolution by the Popular Party (PP) Madrid regional government's healthcare assistance department that authorizes the privatization of the hospitals are those brought by the Madrid branch of Spain’s Socialist Party and the CCOO and Amyts labor unions, as well as that of the AFEM.

The hospitals were awarded to three private companies last August, but these have not yet taken up their contracts because of opposition from labor unions, political parties and a broad-based protest movement.

As well as several well-attended "White Tide" demonstrations -- named in reference to the color of medical staff’s coats -- healthcare professionals have also held 22 strike days to protest the plans.

Madrid regional health chief Javier Fernández-Lasquetty said he preferred not to comment on the TSJM decision until the full contents of the ruling become known. But he underlined that the plenary session was not called to pronounce on the appeals, “only on the proceedings.”

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