Sunday, January 29

Madrid doctors on strike lock themselves up in health centers: “If we don’t win, Primary Care ends”

Primary Care doctors have taken to the streets, they have gathered in front of the health centers every Thursday. They have even started an indefinite strike to try to change a model that they say is detrimental to both professionals and patients. Having reached four weeks of strike, and without progress in the negotiations with the Government of Isabel Díaz Ayuso, they have decided to lock themselves up at night. It has been done by the strike committee at the headquarters of the Ministry of Health, and the doctors from different health centers throughout the Community.

Letter to Ayuso from a Primary Care doctor on strike


“The strike is beginning to be very hard psychologically and economically, but it is now or never. If we don’t win this time, Primary Care is over”, highlights Ángela Revilla. She is 29 years old and joined the Puerta Bonita health center in Carabanchel a few months ago. She speaks through the gate of the General Ricardo center, where the district doctors locked themselves up on Thursday night to protest against the “inactivity” in the businesses.

Revilla chose the family medicine residency because she is convinced that Primary Care is the pillar of public health, although she acknowledges that it is one of the most wasted and mistreated specialties. “Of 18 doctors that we were during my residency, only six made it to the end. But 100% of them participate in the strike, because we understand the importance of this fight”.

At his side, Asu Prieto (66 years old) claims to participate in the confinement more as a patient than as a doctor. She is a veteran of Primary Care, she is about to retire after working 35 years in the same health center. This is how she summarizes her experience in public health in Madrid: “First she improved, then she stagnated. She now she is sinking ”. “It’s very hard work,” she adds. “Time is a fundamental factor to exercise it and the workload varies greatly depending on the center and the neighborhood. In socially disadvantaged areas the overload is unsustainable, but the neighbors support us a lot in this fight”.

The night confinements in the health centers have culminated a day of tensions that began with a meeting of the strike committee with the Ministry of Health, the first after many days of silence. An hour after the meeting -where an agreement was not finally reached to end the strike- the members of the committee announced their intention to lock themselves up in a room of the General Directorate of Human Resources until a member of the Government of Isabel Díaz Ayuso was willing to “really negotiate”.

At eight in the evening, nine hours after the start of the protest, dozens of health workers and citizens had gathered in the street to support the strike committee. On the door they have hung a robe with the words ‘We are not going to stop’, while next to it is the banner of the Amyts union that has accompanied them in the demonstrations in recent weeks.

Daniel Bernabeu, president of the union, encourages those locked up and those present with a megaphone. “We are still on strike, we are not going to stop, until Lasquetty sits down to speak,” the protesters shout in unison. “This is at an impasse. We feel like Thatcher’s miners, we are suffering a war of attrition”, comments Bernabeu, after acknowledging that at this moment the biggest problem is the lack of confidence in the Ministry, which has put them off for weeks. “They are insulting us and discrediting us in public opinion, when all we want is to negotiate and reach an agreement.”

At his side, Maricarmen nods in agreement with each word of the union president. Despite not being a sanitary, she decided to join the protest as soon as she found out about the confinement. “I am one more patient of public health in Madrid. I don’t miss a single one of the concentrations in his defense. Our doctors have always been there for us, and now it’s up to us to support them in their fight”, explains this resident of Arganzuela.

Susan Rodríguez, a doctor at the La Cortes health center, has been on Sagasta street since 12:30. She arrived as soon as the closure of the strike committee was made public. She is accompanied by a co-worker who is a pediatrician, and they are both participating in the strike. She assures that even after four weeks, the patients are still very supportive, as they recognize the importance of fighting for Primary Care. “I truly believe that with this protest we are going to be able to change things. It’s rare that doctors get together, and for this long. If it has happened, it is because what is at stake is too important to give up ”, she indicates.

After midnight, the union released a video of the seven members of the strike committee who were still locked up in the Ministry. The general secretary, Ángela Hernández, has denounced that no one appeared to talk with them: “This is the treatment that the Ministry of Health gives to the strike committee. Now we will try to rest as well as possible, there are some wheelchairs with arms in the room. It is what it is. It is how the Community of Madrid treats its doctors”.

Assembly with patients at the door of the health center

The confinement of the Rafael Alberti health center, in Vallecas, began with an assembly in the street with the patients, who came in large numbers to support their doctors. They even brought her tortillas, cookies and coffee to keep her going all night. Some twenty physicians -from five centers in the district- spend hours gathered in a circle discussing the strike, but above all they share ideas about the future of Primary Care.

“I think the question is not how long we are going to last,” says Nacho Revuelta, doctor at Rafael Alberti. “What is relevant to remember is that they are failing to attend to thousands of queries. That a strike in the transport sector does not last more than four days, while a health strike is being allowed to last a month. They are playing with the lives of the patients.”

For this reason, the doctors explain, there are colleagues who have abandoned the strike. “It hurts us not to be able to care for our patients, people we have known all our lives and who trust us. Many doctors have come to feel guilty and fear what might happen, and have gone back to work”, acknowledges Carmen Pardo, from the Numancia centre.

Everyone talks about physical and emotional exhaustion that they have been arresting for years and that the pandemic has only made it worse. “When the worst was over, we realized that this was not a temporary situation. That was the future”, says Iciar Fernández, who works at Entrevías. “Many colleagues have already left. They have left because this is not the Primary Care in which they want and where they can work. Probably, if the strike goes badly, we will do the same. We no longer have anything to lose,” he adds, as everyone around the circle nods.

Daniel García, from the Vicente Soldevilla health center, maintains a bit of optimism in this regard. “I don’t think this strike is the end of something. Maybe it’s the beginning. A starting point towards the reconstruction of Primary Care, which is prevention, community work, building a relationship with patients. It is the treatment with patients that reminds us why we are here. The strike is for this”.