It is now clear that healthcare workers around Hungary are struggling to manage the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. The non-stop challenge of doing their best to help countless patients is having a severe impact on their mental and physical well-being. The issue has been made evident statistically as well. With 249 coronavirus related deaths on Wednesday, Hungary now has one of the highest global death rates relative to its population at 1965 deaths per one million people.
Healthcare workers in Hungary, especially young volunteers, have begun speaking up about their plight, informing the public about the reality that they are faced with every day.
Government Orders Hungary’s Healthcare Students to Help
On March 17, 2020, Minister of Human Resources Miklós Kásler sent a letter to all sixth year healthcare students informing them in his “sectoral capacity” that “all future healthcare workers are obligated to mobilize into their various assignments of epidemiological care with binding force.”
Three months later the government added all healthcare students in postgraduate studies and those with a college or university level major in the field, as well as those in higher education programs at an accredited school system to the list of obligated healthcare volunteers in Hungary.
Dealing with Death at a Young Age
One volunteer told hvg.hu, “we are covered top to bottom while we are at the unit. It is slightly difficult to breath in the outfit, and the plexiglass face shield and eyewear frequently fog up, but at least we alternate every three hours.”
Another, working in their clinic’s red zone, told the news portal that they cannot believe how the nurses and doctors with whom they work can do this for months on end, saying, “There are some who work 260 hours a month with only 4 days of rest.”
When hvg.hu asked another fifth-year student what the most difficult part of working at a hospital, they did not hesitate, saying, “for me caring for the dying was the most difficult, especially with regards to those patients who live their last moments with a clear mind.”
The student volunteer said that after they spent time with such a dying individual, they would be reminded of the many people who sit on their couches and openly deny the severity of the virus or the necessity of the vaccine.
Hungary’s Healthcare Students Face Traumatic Experiences
One informant, a healthcare student in their senior year who was asked by their government office to help at their county hospital, told 444.hu that “it is horribly stressful to experience and be a part of the current situation.”
A total of 20 students in medicine, nursing, physiotherapy, nutrition, public health, and lab diagnostics were all gathered at the hospital.
Despite being told that they would work 8 hours a day, the informant told 444.hu that since this time was condensed into 44 hours a week, they ended up working 8 hours the first day then 12 for three more non-consecutive days.
“The various hospital departments, such as pulmonology, neurology, and septicemia were all converted to Covid intensive units, and even the emergency operating room was turned into a ward.”
The informant told the news portal that it is extremely mentally straining to see people who had previously been full of life reach such an uncontrollable state, due to the oxygen depletion in their brains, that they end up attacking nurses, damaging equipment, hallucinating, or being completely incapacitated.
Not Enough Time to Provide Effective Care to Patients
Telex shared the Facebook post of a nursing student volunteering at a Covid ward detailing their traumatic experience.
The red zone was filled with sick people sitting, lying down, or crouching. There were so many of them that they barely fit in the waiting room. So many that I was made certain that even if we strain ourselves to the very end, we simply could not attend to this many people in a normal, timely manner.”
The individual discussed the hospital being crowded everywhere with beds and patients constantly in need of aid. Many patients, the volunteer says, were not only complaining that they could not breathe, but would also criticize the speed at which their caretakers were working.
Despite complaints, the nursing student said that ten minutes into their shift they were already swamped with work, “and I knew that I won’t be able to catch up to myself, no matter how much I rush.”
Medical Chamber Criticizes Government Response
Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás previously stated that it is a false assertion that Hungary’s healthcare system is over capacitated. According to him, Hungary’s workforce has actually grown, since medics and residents can take part in protection now as well.
The Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) has emphasized that this is not the case, and that there are significant workforce shortages. In reaction to Gulyás’ statement, MOK said, “whoever doubts what the Medical Chamber has said regarding the healthcare system being over capacity and having personnel shortages will be welcomed at Covid wards. Come see it with your own eyes!”
Due to the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in Hungary, the Hungarian Medical Chamber has suggested stricter lockdown conditions to reduce the number of hospitalizations.
In an interview with hvg.hu, MOK secretary and intensive care specialist Tamás Svéd said that these recommendations are necessary since the large part of the public and the country’s decision makers do not seem to comprehend the magnitude of the issue.
Svéd says that if the situation continues like this, a Hungarian city could be the new example Europe uses to show how tragic and devastating Covid can be. It is for this reason that the public needs to work together to ensure that the virus stops spreading.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI