|ROME, Dec. 14, 2017-- Doctors in Italy went on a 24-hour-long strike on Tuesday, asking more financial resources to be allocated to the national healthcare system (SSN) and better working conditions.
The proportion of physicians joining the strike reached 80 percent in some regions, Anaao-Assomed association said in a joint statement with other unions. Veterinaries also joined the strike.
Emergency care was guaranteed during the strike, but about 40,000 surgeries had to be cancelled across the country, as well as thousands of diagnosis checks, Ansa news agency reported.
As part of the protest, about 100 doctors and other medical staff gathered before the Ministry of Economy and Finance on Tuesday morning to denounce deteriorating working conditions.
"The public healthcare system closes for one day, in order not to close for ever," Anaao-Assomed wrote in a statement.
Among the reported problems, the association denounced "lack of breaks and rest periods at work, millions of hours of work unpaid or non-recoverable, unused vacations... and a rise in daily and nightly workload."
Salaries for professionals in the sector have been stuck for years, the group also lamented.
The national collective agreement setting income and conditions of employment for doctors in the SSN was last revised in 2010.
Unions also complained a lack of permanent contracts for young physicians, who were often hired on temporary basis in public hospitals.
"There is a shortage of some 4,000 anaesthesiologists in Italy, with obvious consequences," chairman of the anaesthesiologists' union Aaroi-Emac, Alessandro Vergallo, said in a statement on the eve of the protest.
"Young trainees are being exploited in place of specialists, and the specialists themselves are forced to work under exhausting conditions," Vergallo added.
Italy is going to general elections by next spring, and doctors' unions warned the public health-related issue should be one of the key topics in the public debate during the campaign.
Furthermore, the Italian parliament was currently assessing the 2018 budget, before the final approval due by end of December.
The financial plan would not contain enough public resources to keep the SSN afloat, especially considering the fast aging Italian population, according to the unions.
At an overall glance, however, the Italian SSN appears to have so far performed among the most efficient worldwide, in terms of comprehensive offer of public healthcare and results in public life.
A comprehensive study by medical journal The Lancet in 2015 put the Italian SSN in the 11th place in a ranking of healthcare quality.
Healthcare expenditure in Italy was equal to 8.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016, about 75 percent of which was financed by the public sector, according to the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).
Yet, the budget for 2018 would provide healthcare spending worth about 6.5 percent of GDP only, according to estimates by Italian media in the health sector.