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Health minister: Cancer 'not urgent unless in final stages'

Washington Post article shows how uninsured cancer patients are left to fend for themselves in austerity Greece

Washington Post hears from uninsured cancer patient Nikos Solomos, 60, who has no money left to pay for a life-saving operation after being forced to sell off farm equipment and property to cover medical costs that now exceed €50,000

Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis The health minister has told a major US newspaper that he doesn't consider "illnesses like cancer" to be "urgent, unless you are in the final stages".

Adonis Georgiadis' comments appeared in an article in the Washington Post, published on Saturday, that showed how uninsured cancer patients are left to pay for their own life-saving treatment as a result of losing their social security coverage due to long-term unemployment.

The paper pointed out that there are now at least 2.3m – or almost one in five Greeks – without health insurance.

Georgiadis told Anthony Faiola, the newspaper's London bureau chief, that emergency cases are still being treated at public hospitals irrespective of insurance status.

"But illnesses like cancer are not considered urgent, unless you are in the final stages," he added.

The minister's remarks were seen by many observers as confirming an article published the previous day in the Lancet, the world’s leading medical journals, that said the Greek government and the troika are "in denial" about the scale of the hardship inflicted on the people of Greece by unprecedented cuts in health spending.

The newspaper heard from one uninsured cancer patient, Nikos Solomos, 60, who has no money left to pay for a life-saving operation after being forced to sell off farm equipment and property to cover medical costs that now exceed €50,000.

Solomos, who recently learned that cancer had metastasised to his liver, now needs €12,000 for the operation.

"We just don’t have it," he told the Washington Post. 

But Georgiadis claimed that emergency cases are still being treated at public hospitals irrespective of insurance status, having created a €13m fund for the most acute cases from money seized in a crackdown on tax evasion. 

On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Community Clinic, an Athens-based voluntary health initiative that has provided free treatment to thousands of uninsured people shut out from free state healthcare, said the Washington Post article and other reports were "upsetting the tranquillity of the government and the major Greek media outlets, which have simply 'buried' the real situation in the National Health Service".

Last July, the centre warned that the "inhuman policies" of the health ministry left "uninsured people to die helplessly because they don't have the money to pay for treatment and/or the cost of their medicines".

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