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Feature European Healthcare

Greek economic crisis: not a tragedy for health

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 27 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7988
  1. Lycourgos Liaropoulos, professor emeritus
  1. 1 University of Athens, Athens 15127, Greece
  1. lliaropo{at}

Despite the stories of doom, cuts to healthcare spending in Greece will not necessarily be all bad for patient care, argues Lycourgos Liaropoulos

In the past two years, I have been interviewed by the media in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Holland, and Greece. One persistent line of questioning has been whether Greeks are “dying on the street,” or getting “kicked out of hospitals.” Since horror stories increase newspaper circulation, the press has even discovered mothers who “were denied their babies after delivery until they paid the state hospital bill.”1 There is also talk of “dramatic rise in suicides.”2 An article in the Lancet last year, which referred to a deterioration of health status, was widely reproduced by the Greek press but criticised by the academic community as irrelevant because the evidence was dated.3 But as far as the actual effects on health that the article discussed, it is definitely too early to know.

The other reports are also exaggerated. The incident with the overzealous hospital administrator who demanded payment to hand over the baby has not been duplicated. There is anecdotal evidence of delays or shortages in particular hospitals at certain times, but no evidence of denial of services to patients. The economic crisis has limited some people’s use of health services, but there is no evidence that it has affected health.

Attempted suicides and demand for psychiatric help have indeed risen as Greece struggles to cope with the worst economic crisis since the second world war. Experts say the numbers are relatively low—less than 600 a year.4 But increases in suicides, attempted suicides, the use of antidepressant medication, and the need for psychiatric care nevertheless cause alarm in a nation not accustomed to the problem. Before the financial crisis began in 2009, Greece …

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