Thousands rally in defence of Madrid public healthcare

At least 200,000 demonstrators rallied in Madrid on Sunday in defence of the region's primary care, warning plans to overhaul the system would "destroy" local healthcare.

Spain protest
Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched during a demonstration called by citizens under the slogan "Madrid stands up for its public health. Against the destruction of primary health care" in Madrid on November 13, 2022. Photo by Oscar Del Pozo / AFP

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators rallied in Madrid on Sunday in defence of the region’s primary care services, warning plans to overhaul the system would “destroy” local healthcare.

On a sunny afternoon, huge crowds rallied at four points across the capital and marched on city hall in a mass protest under the slogan: “Madrid rallies in support of public healthcare and against the plan to destroy primary care services.”

Primary care services in the Madrid area have been under huge pressure for years due to a lack of resources and staff, with the situation worsened by poor regional management, unions say. A regional government spokesman said there were 200,000 people.

“Healthcare for all, your health should never depend on your wallet,” read one huge green banner as thousands of voices chanted “Public healthcare!”

The protest convened by local associations and municipalities takes aim at the health policies of the regional government of right-wing leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso — including a push for public-private healthcare partnerships and its restructuring of primary care.

READ ALSO: Why Spain is running out of doctors

The protest comes ahead of a planned strike by nearly 5,000 regional family doctors and paediatricians scheduled for November 21, due to “the overload of work, endless appointments and lack of time with patients.”

They will join an earlier strike by medical staff over the new model for non-hospital emergency centres, which have seen some offering only video consultations due to a lack of staff.

Speaking to reporters at the rally, Monica Garcia of the hard-left Más Madrid party said the health policy of the regional government, which is run by the right-wing Popular Party (PP), was destroying the public health system. “What they are doing is an unprecedented disaster,” she said.

“Ayuso needs to step up, listen to this demonstration and take political responsibility: either her health minister goes or she goes, or the whole Popular Party government goes,” she said. 

“There is a very simple way to retain professionals and that is to treat them well: give them contracts that are not just for a month, a week, a weekend. When a government is incapable of doing this, it is because there are political interests at work.”

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Spanish PM seeks international image with China visit

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez begins Thursday a visit to China he hopes will show Spain has gained global influence under his watch ahead of a tight year-end general election.

Spanish PM seeks international image with China visit

The two-day visit comes as Spain is gearing up to take over the European Union’s rotating presidency in July which will also serve to project the country on the world stage.

Sánchez will attend the high-profile Boao Forum for Asia on the Chinese island of Hainan on Thursday before meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

He will be only the second leader of a European country to visit China since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic three years ago, after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit in 2022.

Sánchez said last week that Xi’s invitation proves “the international recognition given to Spain during a time of such complex geopolitical difficulties.”

Sánchez’s talks will focus on the Ukraine conflict, with Xi trying to present himself as a mediator.

The world should listen to China’s “voice” in order to find a way out of the war in Ukraine, Sánchez said on Friday ahead of his visit to Beijing.


Spain is not “in the first division of global actors” and is not “decisive regarding strategic issues relating to China or Russia,” said José Ignacio Torreblanca, a senior fellow with the European Council for Foreign Relations.

But the country has “easy” ties with Beijing and it “could act as a facilitator,” he told AFP.

Sánchez, a socialist, has made international affairs a priority since he came to power in June 2018, in contrast to his conservative predecessor.

Spain lost influence in the EU, especially during the country’s deep economic downturn sparked by the 2008 global financial crisis, said Raquel García, an analyst with Madrid’s Elcano Royal Institute, a think tank.

But in recent years Madrid has had “a much more pro-active attitude when it comes to defending its positions, presenting its ideas” in Brussels, she added.

Sánchez managed in 2019 to get his then-foreign minister, Josep Borrell, named as the EU’s foreign policy chief.

The Spanish premier has also taken advantage of “the loss in leadership of the Franco-German axis” to present Spain as a country that can “make the difference when it is time to form alliances,” said García.

Sánchez has been a staunch ally of Ukraine and has visited the country twice since Russia’s invasion.

‘Reinforce his leadership’

Despite being on the other end of Europe, Spain has welcomed 165,000 Ukrainian refugees, according to Eurostat. Within the EU, only Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic have received more.

“Spain is not part of the G7 and is only invited as a guest to G20 meetings. It is in Europe where it can best exercise a certain form of leadership,” said García.

Having a clear position on Ukraine is “a way to reinforce his leadership” on “the issue which is central in the EU”, she added.

Spain’s upcoming presidency of the EU will also be the focus of Sánchez’s talks with Xi.

“China wants to obtain precise things from the European Union and wants to get closer to Pedro Sánchez” for this reason, said Torreblanca.

Sánchez’s taste for diplomacy could also be an asset in the run-up to a general election expected in December, even if the campaign will not focus on international relations.

“The temptation exists to take advantage of foreign policy for electoral purposes for a very simple reason: it’s a subject where the opposition does not act,” said Torreblanca.

Most polls put the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) several percentage points ahead of Sánchez’s Socialists.