Italy and Greece are at the bottom of the list of European Union countries when it comes to palliative care to alleviate pain for people suffering from terminal and chronic illnesses and for post-operation conditions in hospitals. It is estimated that 15 million Italians suffer from seriously painful conditions but up to now only 12 per cent of them are receiving a suitable cure. One reason for this lack of treatment in Italy is that the necessary medicines are expensive and are not available at reduced prices, or free,
through the national health service. The Italian minister of health, Girolamo Sirchia, has promised that pain killing drugs will be moved into the "free" category from the beginning of 2005.