Hungary’s healthcare system is overburdened and understaffed. The nationwide total capacity of effective ventilator care is being reached, and some hospitals are already resorting to prioritizing patients with higher chances of survival, according to reports. The rate of infection does not seem to be waning.
There are currently 10,284 people hospitalized due to the coronavirus, out of whom 1,128 are being treated on ventilators.
The number of people on ventilators continuously drifted near 900 last week, but now having exceeded that, there is no indication that it will stop increasing.
Béla Merkely, rector of Semmelweis University, previously said that the Hungarian healthcare system can effectively care for a total of 1000 people on ventilators.
However, he later said that since healthcare workers have been inoculated, they can handle 20-25 percent more patients. Based off his statement, Hungary’s entire workforce of healthcare workers still has the capacity to treat a total of 1200 to 1250 people on ventilators.
Plenty of Ventilators, Not Enough Healthcare Workers
According to leftist daily Népszava, there are currently 1900 beds in intensive units with access to ventilators.
Still, the nation-wide number of available units does not account for location. One hospital may have reached its capacity while another has plenty of beds available. Even if patients are sent to less crowded hospitals it is not easy to transport an individual in serious condition who is suffering from respiratory difficulties. The total number of available ventilators also begins to matter less when considering that there are not nearly enough people to staff them.
Mihály Kökény, former minister of health under the Socialist-liberal government, told Népszava that the Orbán government departments responsible for managing public healthcare have not created an effective protocol for handling the virus.
Kökény said that many arriving hospital patients are almost immediately put on ventilators, which there are not enough doctors and nurses to operate.
Healthcare expert Gabriella Lantos said that there is no official data around how strained covid-units are, but she agrees with Semmelweis rector Béla Merkely that Hungary’s healthcare system can effectively handle between 800 and 1200 people on ventilators.
Once that number goes above 1200 however, Lantos says “the ventilator will be everyone’s coffin.”
Another significant factor is age. Pulmonologist János Mucsi told Népszava that the virus is continuously infecting younger, healthier people, and that the 30–50-year-old age group is now the most at risk.
Still, the National Healthcare Service Center (OKFŐ) told Népszava that patients will continue to have access to hospital care and ventilators. There will be enough people to provide aid, according to them, and thanks to new restrictions, more inoculations, and the use of Favipiravir for home medication there will be less stress placed on hospitals.
Hospitals Forced to Prioritize Healthier Patients
Ágnes Daróczy-Gaál, vice president of the Hungarian Doctors’ Union, told ATV that since the healthcare system is so short staffed, the more people there are on beds the lower each individual’s chances of survival are.
If there are 50 beds in an intensive unit, but there is only enough personnel for 15 people, every extra patient who is taken on to the remaining 35 beds deteriorates the original 15 patients’ chances of survival. […] We can fill up all 50 beds with patients, but that will result in 50 people lying on 50 beds, each with a 2-3 percent chance of survival.”
She stated that every medical institution in Hungary is triaging, operating in a way that focuses aid on those patients who have the highest likelihood of survival, since trying to focus on everyone at once would result in even lower chances of recovery.
According to Daróczy-Gaál, if the number of people being treated in hospitals continues to grow at this rate, there will soon be about two to three thousand people who require a ventilator. She does not believe that hospitals will be able to handle such a number.
Chamber of Doctors Offers Guidance
Zsolt Hegedűs, head of the Hungarian Chamber of Doctors’ (MOK) College of Ethics, believes the time has come for Hungarian hospitals to use the 32-page ethical recommendations which MOK published last April in reaction to the first wave of the pandemic.
Hegedűs told RTL Klub that the purpose of the document is to guide healthcare workers in unexpected situations, and it is already being used in various hospitals according to him.
Included among the recommendations is the approach of triaging, since Hegedűs says “there may be an elderly person with a much higher chance of survival if the few available resources are directed towards them, compared to a young person who may have a chronic illness.”
Hegedűs says the biggest question now is whether there will be enough doctors and nurses to provide aid.
Numbers Are Not Promising, but Gov’t Optimistic
Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás said that the number of people being treated in hospitals could grow to over 10 thousand people, but he believes Hungary’s healthcare is prepared for such an event.
There are currently 10,284 people hospitalized due to Covid, out of whom 1,128 are being treated on ventilators.
There were 1,067 people on ventilators yesterday, 1,008 on Monday, and 949 last Friday. If the numbers continue to grow in this manner, there will soon be an overwhelming number of people requiring medical assistance. There may be plenty of ventilators available, but there will not be enough staff to operate them all.
It is imperative that everyone adhere to current pandemic restrictions, as Hungary’s healthcare system physically cannot handle more hospitalizations.
Featured photo illustration by Károly Árvai/MTI/kormany.hu