My Greek grandmother broke her leg, but the health system needed more help

Photo: BioAthens

The story of my grandma shows what can happen to EU citizens if their country cannot pay for its health system.

Europeans have been bombarded with analyses on the financial and economic dimensions of the Greek crisis, but mainstream media outlets have paid little attention to its most concrete impact on everyday life.

Most alarming is the situation of the healthcare system in Greece. It is an emergency.

Human rights encompass the right to health, a widely-shared principle enshrined in any European constitution, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The Greek Constitution provides that “the State shall care for the health of citizens and shall adopt special measures for the protection of the young, the elderly, the disabled and provide relief for the needy.”

Article 35 of the EU Charter states that “everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment under the conditions established by national laws and practices. A high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Union policies and activities.”

Similarly, article 25 of the UN’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

Distant hospital

My grandmother broke her femur not long ago. She lives in a tiny village in North Euboea, Pappades, and the nearest hospital that could deal with her situation is 90 km away; two hours by mountain roads. But the long journey itself didn’t even begin until 20 hours after we had called the ambulance, which came all the way from Halkida, the capital of Euboea.

Upon arrival at the hospital, she had to wait two more hours until a doctor could take her for an X-ray. After that, she was assigned a bed in a room occupied by six more people. The doctors and paramedics were very capable but scarce in number and lacking in resources. We were asked to go out and buy most of our own pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and gauzes.

What I saw visiting my grandmother in hospital was staggering. The hospital structure was in clear decay: dirty, smelly and leaky-roofed. The mattresses must have been some sixty years old and were hard as rocks, which caused most elderly patients develop bedsores. Under these conditions, infections are a major cause of death.

Paying extra for home surgery

My grandmother was operated on after five days of waiting. Fortunately, the operation was successful. Like many others, she had developed a very painful lumbar bedsore. But the hospital could not do any more for her. “We can’t afford any more care” is what we were told, being left to do no more than take grandma to my uncle’s home and pay for a surgeon that would come regularly to treat her bedsore. These surgical operations did not take place in an operating theatre but in a regular house, with all the risks that come with this. Can this be acceptable in the European Union of 2017?

Grandma is slowly recovering, but not without significant sacrifices from four siblings and their families. Eight months have passed, and all the while she has been treated at home, we her family paying for the treatment.

Diagnosis: austerity

In Greece, by now, it is down to who is able to pay for healthcare and who is not. Between 2009 and 2013, public expenditure on health in Greece fell by 32% to €1,351 per capita, by far the lowest in the eurozone.

Austerity measures had already made welfare practically extinct, and the same now is happening to healthcare. According the Bank of Greece, 80% of Greeks can’t afford a health insurance policy. According to Eurostat, 36% of the Greek population is at risk of poverty, while 15% of Greeks are living in extreme poverty. At the same time, 71% of unemployed citizens live in absolute poverty.

My many chats with patients revealed disquieting issues. Among them, the non-existence of institutionalised prevention. Most commonly, women over 50 years old in today’s Greece almost never undergo a mammography. Almost as common are deaths at the age of 60 due to untreated diabetes; above all a result of inadequate dissemination of information. I also heard about a cancer patient who had committed suicide because of the unbearable pain, unable to pay for treatment.

I have talked with people striving to access unavailable cancer medicines, traipsing from one hospital or pharmacy to another. Those who have healthcare know they are lucky. I have seen “social pharmacies” that try to supply citizens with the aid of private supporters, where people wait in long queues.

On top of this, a cultural problem makes the system even more restrictive. It is now common practice for patients to give doctors “gifts”, usually ranging from €200 to €1,000, in order to ensure they receive good treatment. Many doctors do not accept money, but others do and even urge donations.

This “system” dates back to long before the crisis.

Medical personnel who are lucky enough to be employed in Greek hospitals do usually enjoy fair living standards. But arguably there are also those who would be unable to make ends meet were it not for such “gifts”.

A gangrenous apparatus

The Greek healthcare system has been suffering the consequences of unbearable shortages since 2010. Even then, the gap between Greece’s healthcare expenditure (5.9% of GDP) and that of other EU member states was significant. Today, according to Eurostat, Greece’s healthcare expenditure rate is 8.3% of GDP. Not because real spending has increased, but because GDP has decreased from €236.5 billion ($299.4bn) in 2010 to €175.7 billion ($195.7 billion) in 2016. And it looks even worse if we consider the contraction of the euro-dollar exchange rate. At the same time, the public debt/GDP rate shot up from 146% to 177%.

Clearly, a country in such chronic disease cannot look after its own welfare, not to mention that of its people. In 2008, Greek GDP per capita was €20,158.29. As of 2015, it is €16,231.5. My grandmother, 93, receives a pension of €280 per month, one of many pensioners who receive such a low sum. After initially being slashed to €300, it was cut by a further €20 one year ago. No-one in the eurozone could live on that sum, standing on their own two feet.

As a result of this situation, Greece cannot buy its citizens most of the pharmaceuticals they need, and many Greeks can’t buy themselves an appropriate treatment.

What can be done?

Not only does the Greek healthcare system need to be exempt from further cuts, it also needs more investment than in pre-austerity days. Although, in its current condition, it might actually need humanitarian aid. The EU will not help. In fact, the measures the bloc has imposed are part of the problem.

When one scrolls down the European Commission’s “Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations” page the only operations mentioned are in the refugee and migrant policy area. No policies have been elaborated nor statements made by EU leaders to address the dire situation in Greece.

It seems that a proven record in addressing external issues – such as undocumented migration – gives Europe greater international legitimacy as the “ultimate bearer of human rights” than it could hope to gain from any policy of internal solidarity. After all, migration and refugees are consistently a hotter issue than some poor Greeks getting poorer.

Depriving Greece of its right to health may not be much of a problem for the EU. But sooner or later someone will notice the discrepancy between the ideals of the EU’s charters and the actual situation. So, dear Europe, isn’t it time to allow my grandma, along with all Greeks, the dignity of hospital care?

Niko Costantino

Niko Costantino holds a BA in Languages and International Relations from the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and MA in International Relations with Political Strategy and Communication from the Brussels School of International Studies (University of Kent). His main interests include Mediterranean and European relations, cultural diplomacy and non-state actors. He collaborates with the think tank KEDISA as foreign policy analyst and participates in NGOs by advising communication and lobbying strategies.


  1. 5 February, 2018 @ 11:33 Niko Costantino

    I could agree with your first thought. It is also true that Greece has had one of the worst political (and perhaps electoral) class worldwide. A great change of mindset is necessary in Greece and I fully give you that. Just if the health sector was bad in pre-crisis levels, today it is almost inexistent and you cannot allow that when virtually none of your citizens is capable of providing privately for their health and those who can afford it will obviously choose spending on health over, say, buying goods. So the economy doesn’t grow, more jobs are lost and small businesses close. It seems never-ending. Greece cannot at present decide on how its budget should be allocated because the EU does that, as conditional to a loan-for-reform dynamic which is “kind of” imposed. The resulting investments are mostly going to the financial sector. The situation is quite emergency. We are talking about human lives, not money. It’s only citizens who should be first protected in situations like these, but not, finance remains first and foremost while 8 years have passed with widespread worsening of living conditions. Sure it is the way to dismantle an entire welfare apparatus to make up for a country’s bad choices? What is the boundary between correction and punishment?


  2. 4 August, 2017 @ 10:14 Marcos Rodríguez Silva

    With all due respect, as long as Greeks continue to believe that it’s the EU’s responsibility to fix their mess, it will remain unsolved. It is Greece first and foremost who has been taking its own decisions over the years on how to allocate its budget (be it investing it or wasting it). It is simply too easy to look for an external scapegoat now that the funds have been tightened.


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

Legal note

1.    Terms and Conditions

2.    Privacy Policy

3.    Cookies Policy


1.    Terms and Conditions

Contact data for the web owner

This website has been created by KATOIKOS to promote their products and services.

– Name: Katoikos, S.L

– Co. tax Code:  B87123162

– Address:  Calle Campomanes 10, 28013  Madrid (SPAIN)

Registration details: Registered in the Commercial Register of Madrid.

Intellectual and Industrial Property

The various elements of this page, and website as a whole, are protected by Spanish legislation on intellectual and industrial property. The trademarks, trade names or logos appearing on this website are the property of the company, or, where appropriate, of third parties, and are protected by Trademarks Law, and of which KATOIKOS holds the legitimate license.

The information provided may not be used for commercial or public purposes, or modified. If the user downloads materials for personal and non-commercial use, warnings shall be kept about copyright and trademarks. To download and use the company logo that appears on the website, prior authorization is required.

Any unauthorised use of the images may violate copyright laws, trademark laws, the laws of privacy and publicity, and communications regulations and statutes.

Liability for Damage

KATOIKOS assumes no liability for damages you may suffer when browsing the web or in the use of computer applications that are part of it. Neither are warranties given as to the correction of malfunctions or updating of content.

Content you share with us

We may include features on this website that allow you to share your content with us and other users of the site. Please note that by sharing content it may become publicly accessible. You grant to Katoikos a worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license, without compensation to you:

 (a) to use, reproduce, distribute, adapt (including without limitation edit, modify, translate, and reformat), derive, transmit, display and perform, publicly or otherwise, such content, in any media now known or hereafter developed, for Kaotikos’ business purposes, and

 (b) to sublicense the foregoing rights, through multiple tiers, to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law. The foregoing licenses shall survive any termination of your use of the site, as further described below.

For all of the content you share through the site, you represent and warrant that you have all rights necessary for you to grant these licenses, and that such content, and your provision or creation thereof through the site, complies with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations and does not infringe or otherwise violate the copyright, trademark, trade secret, privacy or other intellectual property or other rights of any third party, and is furthermore free from viruses and other malware.

Rules of Conduct

When using this website and/or sharing content with us, you are prohibited from posting or transmitting :

1. any unlawful, threatening, defamatory, racist, obscene, scandalous, deceptive, false, fraudulent, inflammatory or profane material or any material that could constitute or encourage conduct that would be considered a criminal offence, give rise to civil liability, or otherwise violate any law.
2. Any virus, worm, Trojan horse, Easter egg, time bomb, spyware or other computer code, file, or program that is harmful or invasive or may or is intended to damage or hijack the operation of, or to monitor the use of, any hardware, software or equipment;
3. Any unsolicited or unauthorized advertising, promotional materials, “junk mail,” “spam,” “chain letter,” “pyramid scheme” or investment opportunity, or any other form of solicitation; and
4. Any material non-public information about a person or a company without the proper authorization to do so.

In addition, you will not:

1. Use this website for any fraudulent or unlawful purpose;
2. Interfere with or disrupt the operation of the website or the servers or networks used to make the website available; or violate any requirements, procedures, policies or regulations of such networks;
3. Access or use this website through any technology or means other than those expressly designated by us.
4. Restrict or inhibit any other person from using this website (including by hacking or defacing any portion of the website);
5. Except as expressly permitted by applicable law, modify, adapt, translate, reverse engineer, decompile or disassemble any portion of this website.
6. Remove any copyright, trademark or other proprietary rights notice from this website.
7. Frame or mirror any part of the webiste without our express prior written consent;
8. Create a database by systematically downloading and storing all or any content;
9. Use any robot, spider, site search/retrieval application or other manual or automatic device to retrieve, index, “scrape,” “data mine” or in any way reproduce or circumvent the navigational structure or presentation of this website, without our express prior written consent.


Kaotikos  reserves the right to remove any messages or statements or cancel any links.

This site may include hyperlinks to other web sites that are not owned or controlled by Katoikos. Katoikos has no control over, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, privacy policies, security or practices of any third party websites.

Content may be hosted on YouTube or other social media. Those operate their own set of terms and conditions and privacy policy which are separate to the ones presented on this website. Katoikos no control over and assumes no responsibility for, the content, privacy policies, security or practices on YouTube or other social media.

 The right to terminate your access

Katoikos reserves the right to terminate your access to this website at any time if you do not comply with these Terms and Conditions or you infringe Kaotikos’ rights in the content provided on this website.

Governing Law

These Terms and Conditions are governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of Spain, without regard to its choice of law provisions.  You agree to the exclusive jurisdiction by the courts of Spain.

Changes to the Terms

Katoikos reserves the right to make changes to the Terms and Conditions from time to time. You acknowledge and agree that your continued access to or use of this website will constitute your acceptance of such changes.

2.    Privacy Policy

Kaotikos takes the protection of your personal data very seriously and collects, processes and uses your data only in accordance with the standards of the legal data protection regulations.

Data is collected, processed and used with technologyes of the provider web trends for marketing and optimisation purposes and also for sending news and information you may be interested in by any electronic services, such as email or SMS.

Our website user’s database is registered at the Spanish Agency of Data Protection. You have the rights of access, rectification, deletion and opposition, regulated in articles 14 to 16 of the LOPD.

For this, please write to:

KATOIKOS (Data Protection) Calle Campomanes 10, 28013, Madrid (SPAIN)

Or send an email to Your ID will be requested for these issues.

3.    Cookies Policy

This site, like many others, uses small files called cookies to help us customise your experience. Find out more about cookies and how you can control them.

This page contains information on what ‘cookies’ are, the cookies used by the Kaotikos’ website and how to switch cookies off in your browser.

If it does not provide the information you were looking for, or you have any further questions about the use of cookies on the Katoikos’s website, please email

What are ‘cookies’?

‘Cookies’ are small text files that are stored by the browser (for example, Internet Explorer or Safari) on your computer or mobile phone. They allow websites to store things like user preferences. You can think of cookies as providing a ‘memory’ for the website, so that it can recognise you when you come back and respond appropriately.

How does the Katoikos’s website use cookies?

A visit to a page on the Kaotikos’s website may generate the following type of cookies: Anonymous analytics cookies.

This website uses Google Analytics, a web analytics service provided by Google, Inc., a Delaware company whose main office is at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View (California), CA 94043, USA (“Google”).

Google Analytics uses “cookies”, which are text files placed on your computer, to help the website analyze how users use the site. The information generated by the cookie about your use of the website (including your IP address) will be transmitted to and stored by Google on servers in the United States. Google will use this information on our behalf in order to track your use of the website, compiling reports on website activity and providing other services relating to website activity and internet usage. Google may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on Google’s behalf. Google will not associate your IP address with any other data held by Google.

Anonymous analytics cookies

Cookier Name Origin Aim End
__utma Google Analysis 2 years since set –up or update
__utmb Google Analysis 30 minutes since set –up or update
__utmc Google Analysis When browser sesión ends
_utmt Google Analysis 10 minutes since set –up or update
__utmz Google Analysis 6 months since set –up or update

How do I turn cookies off?

It is usually possible to stop your browser accepting cookies, or to stop it accepting cookies from a particular website. All modern browsers allow you to change your cookie settings. You can usually find these settings in the ‘options’ or ‘preferences’ menu of your browser. To understand these settings, the following links may be helpful, or you can use the ‘Help’ option in your browser for more details.

Cookie settings in Internet Explorer
Cookie settings in Firefox
Cookie settings in Chrome
Cookie settings in Safari web and iOS.


© 2020 Katoikos, all rights are reserved. Developed by eMutation | New Media

Become a
Being up to date with Europe only takes a few seconds.
Your information will never shared with a third party.
Get our periodical newsletter sent to your inbox!
I have read and agreed the Privacy Policy (required)
Become a
Being up to date with Europe only takes a few seconds.
Get our periodical newsletter sent to your inbox!
Your information will never shared with a third party.
I have read and agreed the Privacy Policy (required)