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Madrid Hospital Privatization Frozen Amid Legal Challenge

Sept. 12 (Bloomberg) -- A Madrid court halted a regional government plan to replace doctors and nurses at six public hospitals and 10 clinics that triggered protests against privatization across the Spanish capital.

Judge Fatima Arana Azpitarte ordered the temporary suspension until both criminal-law and constitutional challenges can be settled, according to her ruling dated yesterday.

The decision freezes the region’s biggest-ever public-health privatization, begun by the conservative People’s Party-led administration and valued at 44 million euros ($58 million). About 5,100 medical professionals are affected and 1.15 million potential patients in 92 towns in the Madrid region.

“This is a step forward to protect public employment and health services for the people of Madrid,” Cristina Cano, spokeswoman for the Comisiones Obreras union that represents some of the medical professionals at risk of losing their jobs, said today in an interview. “Private contracting is well under way with other hospital services, such as cleaning, and we’re disappointed at the deterioration of service.”

Arana’s ruling was on an appeal by the Madrid Association of Medical Specialists. The lobby group is one of several organizers of periodic protests that have coincided with strikes by doctors and nurses.

Private contracting now may be delayed by at least 18 months to 24 months, according to a report today in El Pais newspaper that cited unidentified lawyers.

Yesterday’s injunction, which may be appealed, suspended the public tender offer for services announced in May. Contracts with private companies have been awarded though not signed, El Pais said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Todd White in Madrid at twhite2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.net; Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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