Spaniards Vote for Universal Healthcare in Popular Referendum

More than 99% of Spaniards reject government plans to privatize healthcare. This was the result of a popular referendum on healthcare [es] carried out by various independent groups in Madrid in which almost 1 million people voted for the type of healthcare system they prefer.

The results will be presented at the European Court in Brussels.

The government of the Community of Madrid, whose president is Ignacio González, has made decisions regarding healthcare without consulting citizens and ignoring their protests. This has led the group “Marea Blanca” [es] (The White Tide), together with other organizations, to organize the most democratic event possible by listening to the people's voice regarding the health policies.

A ballot box in a local shop. Photo courtesy of <a href="">Consulta por la Sanidad</a> [es].

A ballot box in a local shop. Photo courtesy of Consulta por la Sanidad [es].

Between May 5 and 10, 2,500 ballot boxes filled the Spanish capital for the healthcare referendum which took place in 103 municipalities in Madrid. Everything was completed by volunteers who also took time to inform the public about the vote. The concise question to be answered by any citizen over the age of 18 was:



Are you in favor of a strong, universal healthcare system managed publicly and against privatization and the laws that permit it? YES/NO

According to data collected by the event webpage [es], 935.794 people voted during those six days, leading to the following percentages:

929.903 personas, un 99,4%, han respondido que

3.558 personas, un 0,4%, han votado que NO

1.454 personas, 0,2 % han votado en blanco

y se han producido 879 votos nulos, 0,1%

929.903 people, 99,4%, responded YES

3.558 people, 0,4%, responded NO

1.454 people, 0,2%, left the ballot blank

and there were 879 invalid votes, 0,1%

Organizers considered the voting process successful due to both the participation and the results, as they express on their website:

En esta Consulta, los ciudadanos hemos sentido que formamos parte del pueblo. Que tenemos voz. Estamos teniendo numerosas emociones positivas.


Según la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos, el derecho a la salud y la asistencia médica es uno de los derechos fundamentales. Según la Constitución Española “se reconoce el derecho a la protección de la salud”. A su vez, dice que “La soberanía reside en el pueblo”. Por tanto el pueblo es el que tiene todo el derecho a decidir.

In this referendum, we the citizens have felt that we form part of society. That we have a voice. We are experiencing many positive emotions.


According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to health and to medical assistance is one of the fundamental rights. The Spanish Constitution “recognizes the right to health protection.” It also states that “Sovereignty resides in the people.” Therefore, the people are those who have the absolute right to decide.

Polling Station. Photo courtesy of <a href=""></a>

Polling Station. Photo courtesy of


Despite having spread vastly through media and social networks like Twitter and Facebook, the initiative has, logically, not convinced others. Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, healthcare advisor for Madrid, has tried to disqualify the referendum by calling it a “parody” and a “mock referendum,” and has argued that it does not truly represent the will of the people. He has further reported that those who have tried to vote in favor of privatization “have been subject to insults and harassment.”

On the other hand, parties such as Izquierda Unida [es] (United Left) have celebrated the success of the initiative, and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) has rejected [es] the privatized model of the Popular Party (PP), which has led to a constitutional appeal. Gregorio Gordo, from Izquierda Unida, snapped [es] at Ignacio González, saying that if the PP justifies their actions based on the results obtained by the ballot boxes, they should give credit to citizen consults of this nature:

 El millón de madrileños y madrileñas que han votado la semana pasada sí sabían lo que votaban, y el millón y medio que les votaron [al PP] el año pasado no sabían lo que iban a hacer con sus votos.

The million men and women of Madrid who voted last week knew exactly what they were voting for, and the million and a half that voted [for PP] last year did not know what would become of their votes.

Against an exclusive model

Despite the critiques, it is plausible that the results reflect the public's dissatisfaction toward healthcare reform that would privatize (or “externalize”, in the words of politicians) 27 public hospitals just in Madrid. People are especially conscious of such hot-button issues like the Decree 16/2012, that left undocumented immigrants without healthcare coverage: hundreds of immigrants have been, due to the approval of this decree, placed in danger of neglect [es], according to Médicos del Mundo (Doctors of the World). Recently, people have been moved by such incidents as the death of Alpha Pam, a Senegalese immigrant, after being denied medical attention, or the case of María Concepción Amaya, or finally the Hospital de Burgos, where a pregnant immigrant was charged 1900 euros [es], later miscarried, and now the Ministry of Finance wants to seize another 2.555 euros.

Image courtesy of <a href="">Yo Sí Sanidad Universal</a> [es]

Image courtesy of Yo Sí Sanidad Universal [es]

With respect for the first incident, which has already led to the dismissal [es] of the director of the hospital where the Senegalese immigrant died, the platform Yo Sí Sanidad Universal [es] (Yes to Universal Healthcare), an initiative that has been fighting against the decree and private healthcare model for some time, commented:

Está bien que haya responsabilidades. Pero no nos olvidemos que los últimos responsables de estas injusticias son el Ministerio de Sanidad, que gestó el RDL 16/2012, y las Consejerías de Sanidad de las comunidades autónomas que lo aplican. Abajo el RDL 16/2012.

It is fine to have responsibilities. But let's not forget that the those responsible for these injustices are the Ministry of Health, that passed RDL 16/2012, and the Ministries of Health in the autonomous communities that have put the RDL 16/2012 into effect.

However, even leaving aside these extreme cases, citizens still have motives to reject a healthcare system with budget cuts that have led to a loss of a quality that can already be seen, for example, in the case of the Hospital de Navarra that has a privatized kitchen service where fecal matter was found in the food. The press has also reported a deterioration in the feeding of patients in that hospital. 

Image from the Marea Blanca's <a href="">Facebook page</a> [es]

Image from the Marea Blanca's Facebook page [es]

Precedents and thinking of the future

This initiative follows a trail marked by a previous experience: the case of the Consulta Social del Agua, a citizen poll [es] against privatization of Canal de Isabel II in the Community of Madrid, that was “a complete success” in spreading its message and in participation and whose result, according to Marea Blanca, was “so clear (99% against)” that they were able to stop plans to privatize. On that occasion a lawsuit was submitted, in conjunction with the votes, that was acknowledged, and remains today the legal tender at the European Court in Brussels.

Marea Blanca wants to send the million votes [es] to Brussels, to “demand respect from institutions and politicians regarding the will of the people.” They also plan to meet with political groups in the next weeks to explain their proposals and demand that the voice of the public be heard once again.

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