When your health centre is a wasteland for more than 20 years, and all that remains

Trade unions and social groups denounce the fact that, during election periods, the Community of Madrid is filled with posters announcing the forthcoming construction of a health centre. Some of them have been like this for up to two decades.

By Guillermo Martínez

Saying that something is going to be done is not doing it. This is well known by the thousands of Madrileños who, election year after election year, see the repetition of posters announcing the forthcoming opening of the corresponding health centre. In some of them, even the first stone has been laid, but paradoxically, this has taken place repeatedly. At least 16 primary care health centres in the Community of Madrid have been planned for at least 15 years, some even for two decades. Social collectives claim this dynamic as covert electoral publicity while the Marea Blanca denounces that it is part of a plan to exterminate Madrid’s public health system.

“The Community of Madrid has spent between 15 and 20 years announcing new infrastructures and the construction of around twenty new health centres in the Community of Madrid that have never materialised”. This is how categorical the CC OO Sanidad Madrid is in appreciating this dynamic on the part of the regional government, led by Isabel Díaz Ayuso. In addition, the propaganda of starting work on these centres, is recurrent during the months leading up to the elections.

According to the union, “everything is reduced to the placement of advertising posters and acts of laying the first stones with photos of the successive candidates of the Partido Popular in the region, which they also practice with infrastructure for hospitals such as Tower 4 of the Infanta Sofía Hospital in San Sebastián de los Reyes”. Mariano Martín-Maestro, secretary general of CC OO Sanidad in the region, calls for the construction of these health centres in view of “the extreme need they represent for decent quality care for citizens”.

In fact, the Infrastructure Plan for new health centres of the Regional Ministry of Health has pending, at least, the 16 health centres that appear in its plan. Of these, those at Las Tablas, Arroyomolinos, Parque Oeste Alcorcón, Sevilla La Nueva and Navalcarnero 2 are in the execution phase. In the processing phase for contracting work are those of Montecarmelo, Barrio Hospital Fuenlabrada, Parla Residencial Este, Valdemoro 3, Quinta de Los Molinos (El Salvador), Butarque, San Isidro Quince de Mayo, Pau 4 Móstoles, Villaviciosa de Odón, El Molar, Dehesa Vieja.

Poster announcing the forthcoming construction of a health centre in Valdebebas. Photo courtesy of Vecinos y vecinas de los pueblos y barrios de Madrid.

You don’t build one when you need two

The union estimates that 15,000 people should be assigned to a single health centre, at most. “In 2022, in Las Tablas, there were living in more than 12,000 homes, around 43,000 people, so at least two health centres would have to be in operation,” they emphasise.

Instead, the legislatures succeed one another and the only thing on these plots, some of them ceded by the municipalities’ town councils to the Community, is a sign announcing the forthcoming opening. “In addition, the existing health centres are in terrible condition. Some have been renovated, but others are in urgent need of maintenance, and for this a budget is essential,” says Martín-Maestro.

So, the problem is that there is not enough investment, in the unionist’s eyes. “We see centres with deficiencies in heating, air conditioning and even insects, as we saw when the so-called continuing care centres were opened after being closed for two years,” he explains. For this reason, they demand a comprehensive primary care plan that includes hiring new staff and funding for the creation of the necessary infrastructure.

The population, tired of deception

But CC OO has not been the only one to notice this way of proceeding on the part of the Government of the Community of Madrid. Just before the elections, dozens of activists integrated in the collective of Neighbours of Neighbourhoods and Villages of Madrid mapped the state of the planned health centres in their respective areas. Ernesto Sarabia was the coordinator of the report: “A few months before the elections we saw how they started to put up these posters announcing the health centres, but we knew they would still take a long time to arrive”, begins his diatribe, a resident of Vicálvaro.

For this reason, they made a complete inventory of the health centres which, for the moment, are abandoned plots of land. “This is covert electoral publicity, because the political party that governs with money from all the citizens is doing it to try to get more votes,” Sarabia denounces. The activists are not going to let this initiative to demand health infrastructures at the service of the people die, which is why they are already preparing for the new year with different days and activities.

Neighbours of the Asamblea Popular de Carabanchel next to the site where the Abrantes health centre should be. Photo: Elvida Megías

Plan to end public health care

For their part, the Mesa en Defensa de la Sanidad Pública – Marea Blanca consider that this dynamic is “a sign of the politics being carried out in the Community of Madrid, which is anti-politics”. Carmen Esbrí, spokesperson for the group, explains: “Politicians elected at the ballot box, whoever they are, must provide solutions to citizens, and health is one of the most important, but also one of the most attractive to speculators. In Madrid, instead of solutions, they only provide problems”.

In his view, the regional government is breaking the law by leaving the population without resources and infrastructure. “The General Health Law passed in 1986 is based on the concept of health above all else, and health can only be controlled by quality primary care, as well as establishing that it must be close to the citizen”, the activist explains.

The seasonality in which we are immersed, with the hottest summer since records have been kept, shows how the health system in Madrid relegates thousands of patients. According to Esbrí, the Community’s own regulations establish that those affected by the heat must go to their primary care centres. “But how are they going to do that if some of them are miles away from their homes? All this manifests a perverse plan to charge public health”, he points out.

The Marea Blanca argues that there is no reason why these planned centres are not already functioning. “However, they have been able to build a Zendal hospital in record time, thanks to which many companies have made a fortune, and there it is, at a standstill, useless and a symbol of the human and political misery that governs us,” says Esbrí.

Therefore, it would not only be Diaz Ayuso, currently at the head of the regional executive, but all his predecessors both in the presidency and in the Ministry of Health who carry out this “liquidation plan of public health as we once knew it”, claims the spokeswoman of the Marea Blanca. “When people see one of these posters, they should not believe that they are going to build the health centre they promise, because it is a lie”, she concludes.

Redacción Madrid