As coronavirus numbers steeply grow, healthcare faces increasing pressure and disruption. Meanwhile, some 4,000 staff members fell out of the healthcare system after refusing to sign the new contract following a new law which is even criticized by an important Fidesz politician.
While the new law (and the new contracts) grant a roughly 120% salary increase to doctors in Hungary in three steps, it also criminalizes gratuities. Moreover, it implements much stricter working conditions, a lower hourly wage for on-call, nights, weekend, and holiday shifts, and also bans second jobs. In addition, nurses haven’t received any kind of notable wage increase.
As a result, many are criticizing the new stipulations, and last week several cases of professionals refusing to sign the new contract hit the news.
According to the most recent information, approximately 4,000 people (3.6%) refused to sign the new contract and as a result, discontinued their work in healthcare as of March 1st. According to the president of the Chamber of Hungarian Health Professionals (MESZK), most of the medical professionals worked in areas that are exposed to the virus the most: intensive care, emergency departments, and those patients who were rerouted to different hospitals. Their departure also affects those who are staying, since they now have a lot more work to do. He added that out of the number of applications for references, it can be inferred that many of them would want to work abroad once the crisis is over.
The government is being criticized for the timing of this new system’s implementation too: the force of the pandemic’s third wave that is already surpassing the second one in many aspects.
Growing problems, growing pressure
As of Tuesday’s data, the number of patients on ventilators exceeded 830 and is still expected to grow. Meanwhile, certain experts earlier said that the number of patients treated with ventilation that the Hungarian healthcare system can support without major problems, totals around 1,000. Meanwhile, the vaccination campaign faces serious disruptions too, even though the number of vaccinated people in Hungary (those who already got at least one shot of either vaccine) just recently exceeded 1 million.
Reportedly, hospitals again face increasing pressure. On Friday, it was decided that all outpatient surgical procedures will be postponed.
In addition, left-wing daily Népszava revealed that the Chief Medical Officer temporarily ordered the suspension of the intake of hospitals’ internal medicine departments in Budapest and Pest county due to overload. In practice, this means that from Tuesday on until the order’s revocation, some 15 institutions will be obliged to receive internal medicine patients in and around the capital. It is the ambulance service’s job to find out where patients could be taken (where there are beds available).
Since Thursday, the Mosonmagyaróvár hospital’s obstetrics, gynecology, and pediatrics departments are unable to treat emergencies as staff had to be redirected to the Covid departments, RTL Klub reported. Although consultations with specialists are still available, urgent cases are already being treated in nearby Győr. The medical chamber’s county president admitted that “intensive care units are full, the departments are full. In this situation, it is extremely undesirable that colleagues have exited the system, leaving even fewer to organize services with.”
MESZK president Zoltán Balogh also told Magyar Hang that staffing of the Covid departments is already very difficult, something that takes a lot of organization.
Private sector and medical students ordered to help out
The government apparently aims to handle the situation with last-minute rulings. As of the healthcare under-staffing tendencies, it now aims to involve private healthcare providers, residents, and medical students too.
A government decree issued on Friday night authorizes the national director-general of hospitals to “assign” healthcare professionals from the private sector to mandatory work in a state- or municipality-run institution “not any later than (until) the end of the emergency.”
Some of the medical students were reportedly already informed about their involvement. According to Balogh, while their participation was voluntarily until now, and they were rather involved at the screening and vaccination points, now they are needed to help out in the hospital departments.
Meanwhile, the government still insists that “all the conditions are in place for the healthcare workers to serve in the emergency.”
Győr’s Fidesz mayor: Gov’t should have consulted with doctors before changes
Győr’s Fidesz mayor, András Csaba Dézsi who kept his cardiology practice after his election (for which the ruling parties had to vote in an amendment), grew critical with the new healthcare bill and the government too. Dézsi, for example, criticized the mandatory rest period and that the Interior Ministry worked out the new bill instead of the Human Resources Ministry. “Doctors don’t want police officers to explain what a healthy lifestyle is as we know a little more about that.” He also lacked consultations with doctors when working out the new framework: “I don’t want to hurt them because everyone obviously does as much as they can, just they shouldn’t be proud of it, if it is just this little.”
In addition, reacting to national director-general of hospitals Zoltán Jenei’s claim that healthcare could “even improve” after the departure of thousands, Dézsi labeled those words as “outrageous nonsense.” “It’s like when a football coach says after the expulsion of its players, ‘well, with nine we have a much better chance of winning.’ Joking should also have a limit.” According to him, those who convey success propaganda to decision-makers are only trying to disguise their mistakes.
The worst is possibly yet to come: the coronavirus can still be far from peaking, while experts predict that the wave of those terminating their contracts could also continue in the coming months.
featured image illustration via Zoltán Balogh/MTI