Belgian health care staff expect thousands to turn up at weekend protest

Belgian health care staff expect thousands to turn up at weekend protest
Illustration picture shows a health care workers demonstration. Credit: La Santé en Lutte/Facebook

A protest against the chronic underfunding of Belgium's health care system which has sent the quality of care into "a freefall" is expected to see a massive turnout in Brussels on Sunday.

Belgian health workers are expecting tens of thousands to rally to pile the pressure on the incoming federal government to refinance and rethink the health system in the country, in a demonstration originally planned for March but delayed due to the pandemic.

Over 15,000 people have expressed an interest in the protest, led by health care workers collective La Santé en Lutte, which was created a year ago but emerged as a vocal critic of current health policies during the pandemic — policies which they say aggravated the crisis and weakened Belgium's capacity to respond to it.

"Health care requires time and money," Steven O'Brien, a doctor and member of the collective, said in a TV interview on Friday. "Workers cannot go on administering poor care to patients."

"They end their workdays with the feeling of having done a bad job, even if they cared for more patients than they would have ten years ago," he added.

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O'Brien said that he hoped female health care workers would turn up massively to the protest, saying they made up the majority of the workers in the sector.

In social media posts ahead of the protest, the collective maintains that the coronavirus crisis had put the "ineptitude" of the "irresponsible management" of the country's health care system front and forward.

According to O'Brien, a central demand of the collective is for government leaders to stop running health care institutions like companies.

"The protest stems from one fact: that the quality of health care is in a freefall, workers can no longer treat patients correctly," he said, adding that this resulted in "grave consequences and deaths."

"Members of the public are not sufficiently informed of this. A glaring example is that, in some hospitals, semi-intensive services of around 20 beds run with at night with a single nurse on shift."

On social media, the collective is also calling on all frontline workers, namely those outside the health sector, to join the demonstration.

The demonstration will depart from Brussels Central Station on Sunday at 1 PM.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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