ROME (Reuters) - Thousands of doctors went on strike across Italy on Monday to protest against cuts to the country's health service, raising pressure on Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government as it seeks further ways to slash spending.
About a hundred medics observing the four-hour strike gathered outside the Economy Ministry in Rome, waving banners and demanding more state resources for healthcare.
"We want to defend a public service that is more and more impoverished and that is no longer able to guarantee proper care for the people," said Massimo Cozza, head of the medics' arm of Italy's biggest trade union CGIL, who attended the protest at the ministry.
He said that Italy's public health service had reached "the limits of survival" as a result of spending cuts and hiring freezes linked to government austerity measures.
The former government of Mario Monti introduced a series of spending cuts and tax hikes after it came to power at the height of a financial crisis in November 2011, seeking to shore up public finances and rein in Italy's massive debt.
Letta's right-left government, which took over in April this year, is preparing to resume spending cuts so that it can reduce taxes in an attempt to kick-start growth.
Thousands of planned surgical interventions and specialist visits will be postponed as a result of the strike, but emergency services will not be affected, according to CGIL's web site.
(Reporting By Gabriele Pileri, writing by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Toby Chopra)
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