The Italian Sicko

in Italy

For those of you who think that a socialized health care is the way, and that Italy is a model, it could be useful to know that record numbers of Italians are travelling abroad for medical treatment, according to patient figures released on Thursday.

Around 5,000 Italian ‘health tourists’ filed requests in 2005 to receive treatment abroad, the majority of them from Italy’s underdeveloped southern regions, the European organisation Active Citizenship Network (ACN) said.

Almost 40% were from the region of Campania around Naples and nearly 10% from Sicily, said the ACN, which is a European network of citizens’ rights groups. It could also be useful to know that Sicily and Campania are among those italian regions with a massive health care deficit, which forced a bailout plan from the Prodi government, made by local tax increases and additional central government funds.

But the ACN also noted a simultaneous drop in the number of foreigners coming here for treatment, saying that for every European travelling to Italy for health assistance in 2006, 150 Italians went abroad against a ratio of 1-54 in 2000. France was the most popular destination for Italians (50% of cases) followed by Belgium and Switzerland (both 14%). Most of the patients went for major operations, in particular organ transplants, and cancer treatment.

The ACN stressed that it was not only lack of confidence in homegrown healthcare that was driving Italians abroad. It said one of the main causes was Italy’s poor record on patient rights.

ACN noted that Friday was European Patients’ Rights Day, an initiative that was first introduced in 2007. It called on all European countries to actively mark the day and promote efforts to get a European Charter of Patients’ Rights approved. Public confidence in Italy’s health service has been recently undermined by a string of errors and apparently avoidable deaths, particularly in the south. And we also have some horror stories about that:

  • In one case in May 2007, at least four patients died after being given laughing gas instead of oxygen during operations at a hospital in the southern region of Puglia.
  • In another headline case last year, a 16-year-old girl in Calabria entered a fatal coma when a power cut occurred during her appendicitis operation.
  • Meanwhile, three patients at a Tuscan hospital were given transplants using organs from an HIV-positive donor.

Every year, between 4,500-7,000 patients die in Italy because of infections contracted while in hospital. Hospital infections are considered a factor in another 21,000 patient deaths while up to 700,000 patients contract non-fatal infections. Reports of poor hygiene and low safety standards sparked a nationwide inspection of public hospitals in January 2007. Less than half were given a clean bill of health, with 36.4% reported for breaching administrative norms, 17.4% for breaching building norms and 7.5% for breaching hygiene and cleanliness norms.

Southern regions were found to be the worst, with hospitals in Sicily, Calabria, Lazio around Rome and Campania around Naples proving the least hygienic, with some true Third World features. While in Italy there are regions where you can get very high standards in health care (Lombardy, Emilia Romagna among the others), the persistent phenomenon of “health tourism” shows that there’s a problem in managing a national health care system made by very different regional sub-systems. And don’t believe those (leftist politicians first) telling you there’s a problem of selfishness by northern regions: many Italians also travel from southern regions to northern ones to get medical treatment, contributing to the overall health care budget deficit. In Southern Italy the nanny-state is playing havoc, once again.

As you can see, horror stories are not an exclusive from the flawed US health care, they can also happen in a socialized health care system.

But don’t tell Michael Moore this: he won’t believe.