Spaniards are refusing to jeopardize their healthcare for the sake of the budget, with thousands of medical workers marching through Madrid protesting cuts to health care and plans to sell off public hospitals.
The protesters, dressed in white and blue scrubs, chanted "Health is not for sale" and "Health 100 per cent public, no to privatizations."
Police estimated that more than 5,000 people attended the demonstration in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol, while organizers put the number of protesters at 25,000.
Some protesters carried placards with anti-austerity messages and criticism of the plan to hand hospitals and clinics over to corporate administration.
Local authorities put forward a plan in October to place six hospitals and 27 clinics of the 270 in the region under private management.
The plan also suggests charging patients a prescription fee of €1.
"What their plans really mean is a total change of our health care model and a dismantling of the system used," Fatima Branas, a spokeswoman for the organizers, was quoted by AP as saying.
The latest protest follows a call by professional associations on the region's 75,000 doctors, nurses and other health workers last week to stage protests and go on strike if necessary.
The march, called a "white tide" by its organizers, was Spain's third large-scale protest over health care issues this year.
Spanish health care and education are currently managed by 17 the semi-autonomous regions, rather than the central government. Thus, each sets its own budgets and spending plans. The Madrid region is governed by the Popular Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The Prime Minister’s government has slashed national health spending by €7 billion ($9.1 billion) a year. Spain's leadership hopes the move will save €102 billion by 2014, as the government continues cutting public services in order to cover its massive bailouts of failing financial companies.