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Issues » 2018/4 - ERIS Journal - Summer 2018 »

Social Work Practice of Hospital Social Workers under the Structural Adjustment Program in Greece: Social Workers Protecting the Right to Health Care within the Context of Neoliberalism

Maria Pentaraki

OBJECTIVES: This study explores the effects of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) and its resultant social spending cuts and austerity measures on social work practice in Greek public hospitals. THEORETICAL BASE: The research is informed by a critical social theory approach. METHODS: Qualitative interviews were conducted with eleven senior social workers. OUTCOMES: Data gathered from qualitative interviews in 2011 reveal that underfunding and understaffing causes workers to intensify their professional efforts and to increasingly draw on more informal contacts, as well as on their personal resources, to respond to the needs of service users. Health care spending cuts within the context of neoliberal capitalism clearly undermine participants’ ability to effectively perform their work, but they do the best they can with the available resources. Faced with an increasing inability to provide optimal care, participants reorient their focus to at least providing emotional support. A strong theme of resistance emerged, with participants insisting that health care is a right and not a commodity. SOCIAL WORK IMPLICATIONS: The paper maintains that it is imperative for the social work profession to understand that the difficulties they experience emerge within the context of neoliberal capitalism and thus austerity measures and social spending cuts need to become a locus of intervention.

neoliberalism, social work, austerity, Greece, health care as a right, Structural Adjustment Program, resistance, social spending cuts, hospital social workers, relationship based social work

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