Thousands of Spanish medical workers protest healthcare cuts, privatization (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

Thousands of health care workers, many dressed in white lab coats, took to the streets in 16 cities across Spain to protest government budget cuts and plans to partially privatize the country’s public healthcare system.

Several thousand protesters, many chanting, banging drums, and blowing whistles, converged on Madrid’s iconic Plaza de Cibeles after marching from 27 hospitals in the region.

Some in attendance waved signs reading “Your health is being sold" and "Cutting back on health care is a crime."

It was the third "white tide" demonstration in Madrid, named after the color of the medical scrubs worn by many of the protesters. Sunday’s demonstration was the first time cities apart from the capital participated, including Barcelona, Cuenca, Murcia, Pamplona, Toledo and Zaragoza.

Protesters take part in a demonstration against plans to cut medical spending and privatise hospital services in Barcelona on February 17, 2013.(AFP Photo / Josep Lago)
Protesters take part in a demonstration against plans to cut medical spending and privatise hospital services in Barcelona on February 17, 2013.(AFP Photo / Josep Lago)
Protesters take part in a demonstration against plans to cut medical spending and privatise hospital services in Barcelona on February 17, 2013.(AFP Photo / Josep Lago)
Protesters take part in a demonstration against plans to cut medical spending and privatise hospital services in Barcelona on February 17, 2013.(AFP Photo / Josep Lago)

The Madrid regional government plans to outsource the management of six of its 20 large public hospitals as well as 27 out of 268 health centers in the region in order to tackle its debt problem.

Many protesters said the drive towards privatization as a means of cutting costs would ultimately be ineffective.

"There is no study that shows that privatizing the management of hospitals leads to lower costs. This privatization hurts patients' health care to benefit other interests," Emilia Becares, a 46-year-old nurse who went to the protest with her three sons, told France 24.

Others, like Civil servant Javier Tarabilla, said Spain's welfare state was being picked apart so that it could be taken over by the private sector.

"This is pillaging of our public services, looting something we've all contributed to through taxes, to give it to private companies to run for profit," he said.

On a nationwide scale, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government has already cut 7 billion euro from healthcare spending amidst an austerity drive to slash 150 billion euro from the country’s budget by 2014.

Medical workers take part in a demonstration against plans to cut medical spending and privatise hospital services in Barcelona on February 17, 2013.(AFP Photo / Josep Lago)
Medical workers take part in a demonstration against plans to cut medical spending and privatise hospital services in Barcelona on February 17, 2013.(AFP Photo / Josep Lago)
Protesters hold placards as they take part in a demonstration against plans to cut medical spending and privatise hospital services in Madrid on February 17, 2013.(AFP Photo / Pedro Armestre)
Protesters hold placards as they take part in a demonstration against plans to cut medical spending and privatise hospital services in Madrid on February 17, 2013.(AFP Photo / Pedro Armestre)