Does socialism have free health care?

Myth: "The GDR had the better health system" - Adenauer Campus

The health system of the GDR was considered to be one of the flagship achievements of socialism. Every citizen should be entitled to modern and free medical treatment. The aim was to maintain and strengthen the workforce of the population. That is why the GDR invested in polyclinics and preventive medical check-ups, in staff training and in medical research. The positive elements included the central tumor registry and the almost complete protection of the population from infection by state vaccination programs as well as a large number of preventive programs for children, adolescents, pregnant women and mothers.

Shortage of doctors as a permanent phenomenon

Up until the Wall was built, many doctors fled to the West, and later they formed a strong group of those wishing to leave the country. There was a great shortage of doctors, and the waiting times for medical examinations and operations were often long.

Polyclinics and hospitals

Outpatient medical care was primarily the responsibility of polyclinics. General practitioners, gynecologists, ophthalmologists, dentists, dermatologists and orthopedists practiced here under one roof. Large companies had their own polyclinics. Many hospitals in the GDR were built before the First World War. Most of the patients were in four- to eight-bed rooms.

Lack of western medicines and medical technology

The GDR also failed to achieve the desired “world standard” in medical equipment and drug supply. There were permanent bottlenecks in the supply of consumer goods, medicines and medical technology equipment. There were only 200 dialysis places for kidney patients in the entire GDR, at the end of the 1980s there was a computed tomograph for 600,000 people (in Western Europe: 1: 100,000) and an ultrasound machine for 32,000 people (in Western Europe: 1: 2,500). There was a lack of insulin and effective cardiovascular drugs. Seriously ill GDR citizens were advised to get the urgently needed medicine from relatives or church institutions in the Federal Republic.

Two-class medicine

High government officials, officials and other important cadres did not have to worry about their medical care. You were treated in the "Government Hospital of the GDR" in Berlin-Buch. The best medical care in the GDR was available here, including the latest equipment and medicines from the West, the import of which was officially prohibited until 1985. This luxury was kept secret from outside, but it shows the double standard in the socialist state.

The Stasi knew the problems

The Stasi was aware of the health care problems. In April 1989 she summarized the "causes of the supply situation in the health system": The material-technical and personnel supply are inadequate, the pharmaceutical industry is outdated, the "information system in the event of malfunctions / accidents" ineffective. GDR products are "hardly usable", "we are partly completely dependent on the NSW (non-socialist economic area)", that means on the Federal Republic.

And more and more GDR citizens realized how big the distance to the West was. The numerous hospital and doctor series on German television were more effective than any state propaganda of the "class enemy" could have been.