The top brass of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona sings standing up, and some of them with fists up, the hymn ‘Els Segadors’.
Many are wearing their white coats. The voices reverberate in the auditorium of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Barcelona, integrated into the hospital, giving an air of liturgy. In front of them, the ‘president’ Quim Torra observes them as an extreme priest and also sings. An interpreter wearing a yellow blouse plays the cello. There are posters with the faces of the defendants in the ‘procés’ on the wall. The scene happened a few days ago and gave goose bumps to thousands of people in social networks. Also to medical professionals of the Hospital Clínic, who see with resignation how this hospital center, the flagship of Catalan health, the third best Spanish hospital according to the ‘rankings’, has been converted by the Government into a tool of propaganda and social upheaval.
The scene described is not part of an exceptional event. Once a week for a year and a half, a group of professionals from the Clinic, including the top brass, gather in the hospital lobby just to ‘build republic’ and remind the public, in this case the patients, of the fact that Catalonia is a victim of repression. Frequently, solemn visits by senior officials of the Generalitat are organized. On February 12, coinciding with the start of the trial in the Supreme Court, the heads of the hospital and some professionals of different rank protested in the lobby with the minister of Health, Alba Vergés. After the obligatory sermons, all sang ‘Els Segadors’. Then they went out to cut Villarroel street for a few minutes with a big banner with the motto ‘Democracia’.
“They control the hospital, so they do what they want”, says Pedro*, one of the Clínic’s doctors who do not share the current drift. “The board of trustees and the governing body are a typical example of revolving doors for politicians, and for the past few years, they have been using the Clínic to place people loyal to their regime; we all know that political acts, stoppages at the entrance each week, the banners of support for the ‘political prisoners’ and the ties that have been hanging in recent times on the walls have been sponsored from the top. It seems to me those are signs of arrogance towards other colleagues and a lack of respect for the patients, but let’s leave it to everyone with their conscience. I, as surely many of us do, dedicate myself to go, do my job well and go home without mixing in these issues, I keep my opinions for my private life”.
The governing council of the Hospital Clínic is chaired by Xavier Pomés, strong man of Jordi Pujol and Democratic Convergence since the nineties, when he held key positions in successive legislatures. Along with him, there are up to seven members of the Catalán Health Service (an entity dependent on the Government) in the governing body, which makes it possible to shore up any decision making with their votes. Among these members stands out the presence of Nuria Terribas, sister of the journalist Mónica Terribas, a reference of Catalunya Ràdio.
At the operational level, the maximum figure of the hospital is the general director and nephrologist, Josep Maria Campistol, a person very close to the political nomenklatura although little given to sovereignty verbal excesses. Campistol receives a salary of 109,663 euros, only one euro less than the minister of Health. For his part, the dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Barcelona (the Clinic is a university hospital), Francesc Cardellach, openly defends radical postulates in favor of independence and his opinions have led to angry protests from the medical and teaching community in several occasions.
Doctors against the Spanish dictatorship
The vehicle to express fidelity to the Government is the so-called Clinical Collective for Democracy (CCD), a platform created by professionals of the Clinic that, according to their own figures, has more than 800 members among health personnel and teachers of the Faculty of Medicine. According to the physicians consulted, the heads of the units and relevant members of the hospital are behind this initiative, which was concocted to make visible that the medical sector in Catalonia repudiates the oppression of the State. After his recent visit, Quim Torra thanked the “friends” of the CCD for their “commitment to freedom and a country of quality”.
“Nobody forces you to go to the weekly rallies in the lobby, but that helps them to indicate who is in the photo and who is not. If you want to be part of a commission or participate in the organization of the hospital, you need to show that you are inside. There are nurses and assistants who go all day with the bow on the lapel, and don’t you dare to tell them what; also some doctors wear it, although less. There are units that are tremendous, such as cardiology, where you have signs, bows and all the paraphernalia ‘indepe’. Some of them look like Taliban instead of doctors. I get a lot of discomfort because they imply that all the professionals in the Clinic support the Government and that is a lie. Neither the CCD nor the direction of the hospital represent me”, complains Andrés.
If you raise your voice, you can be denied a leave of absence, a permit to take care of a family member or approve a change.
“Unfortunately, we cannot say aloud what we think because we would become stinkers,” he continues. “If they know that you are not on the line but do not complain they will not do anything to
you, you will only be removed from the committees. But if you raise your voice, you are exposed to reprisals of all kinds. A leave of absence for three months in The United States, asking for a permit to take care of a family member, approving a change, the very fact that your companions start looking at you badly… The hospital management has a lot of power over the professionals of the Clinic, so none of us dare to protest”.
This newspaper contacted the Hospital Clínic to obtain its version of these facts. There was no chance. A responsible assured “not having proof” that political activities are organized in its facilities. It was also not possible to ask the hospital about the alleged resistance fund in favor of Òmnium that was organized by the top brass of the center or the trip to Waterloo that prominent members of the Clinic made months ago to meet Carles Puigdemont and former minister of Health Toni Comín.
Toni Comín (left), today escaped in Belgium, was
the previous minister of Health. (EFE)
A conquest at a slow pace
The conquest of the Clinic has been a slow process that is bearing fruit in this last year and a half of political outbreak. “It began with the restructuring of the patronage, about four or five years ago, and with the staggered arrival of like-minded people to the management positions and the chiefs of the units”. These people, as is the case everywhere, surrounded themselves with people like them. And that affinity is demonstrated through the ideology, “says Ana”. The video of the other day is the last straw, it gave me fear, even if I know them all. It’s all Kafkaesque and we are many here who are tired of this utilization of such a prestigious hospital as a political weapon. They are taking down the future of the Clinic and those of us who work in it. I am tired of hearing in the corridors insults against Spain, of listening to Francoism here and dictatorship over there And the rest of us just to be silent so as not to stand out, as was the case in the Basque Country era”.
Santi, on the other hand, has it clear: if today he were to have the opportunity to move to Catalonia to work at the Clínic, as it happened years ago, he would say no. “I came to Catalonia with great enthusiasm, but now I would not recommend it to anybody. What need do you have to complicate your life? You just have to see how many MIRs arrived at the Clinic a few years ago and how many now. I keep staying here because I have family and children in school age, but they have managed to make me feel disregard”, he says. The notice that all the staff received in the weeks before the referendum on October 1, in which they were informed that their payroll would automatically begin to be listed in the Tax Agency of Catalonia instead of the Spanish Treasury, is one of the cases that have generated more commotion, although in the end it did not materialize.
The Hospital Clínic is a benchmark in medical
“Actually, today I worry more that they could indoctrinate my children in school than what happens in the hospital, because I’m used to it”, Santi continues. “In 2017 it was something more uncomfortable and sad, but look, if someone wants now to go to the lobby to claim democracy at 12.00, let him do so”. If they want to share the hospital cake and hold meetings in the medical delegates committees, let’s them do it. If they want to put a pin on their lapel as if it were a merit like speaking Basque, let’s them do it. I do not think that a hospital or a school are the best places to make propaganda. Well, if they want to protest, why not do it against all the cuts in health spending decreed by the Generalitat in
recent years, the same cuts as decreed by all the governments of Spain. But since this is a manger in which there is no critical spirit, everyone prefers to remain silent and stay there just to see if something falls”.
Santi has ever thought about putting a flag of Spain in his office, but has given up to avoid falling into the same game of provocation. “At least in my case, as they know I do not share with all of this from the beginning, they do not look at me badly, on the contrary, I more than once argue with them and they put up with it”.
All the physicians consulted agree on two things: they live the weekly rallies, the posters and the songs of ‘Els Segadors’ with resignation and fear for their future work. Not for the dismissal, but for the possible degradation of the Clinic as a referral hospital. “I am ashamed of what is going on, it is unpleasant, why patients have to see posters in favor of prisoners or yellow ties, they are playing with the academic and research prestige of the hospital because of their supremacism”, Ana complains bitterly.
* All identities have been preserved at the request
of the interviewees in order to avoid labor retaliation.