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Demand for Healthcare Services in Greece Dropped during Pandemic

Αssociated Press

A member of hospital staff wears a mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS - Demand for the services of Greece's state hospitals and other healthcare providers has dropped sharply, in some cases by as much as 85 pct, during the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, demand for medical advisory support online or over the telephone has soared by as much as 300-450 pct, Prof. of Health Economic Yiannis Kyriopoulos told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency in an interview released on Sunday.

"The pandemic caused a drop in demand in state hospitals by 45-85 pct depending on their involvement in dealing with Covid-19, in primary healthcare, in health centres by 75 pct and in private surgeries by 40-90 pct, depending on the specialty," he said, citing a study on the cost of hospital care for Covid-19 in Greece that he is writing with Kostas Athanasakis, general director of the Institute of Health Economics and Kyriakos Souliotis, a professor of health policy.

This was only partly explicable by the fear and concern over Covid-19 and also led to "delayed care" for the chronically ill, such as heart patients, diabetics and those with hypertension, which led to a disruption of their long term care and increased mortality indices, he added.

The reduction in demand, Kyriopoulos said, is likely to affect the planning and discussion on the need to increase technological resources to health, since truly urgent health issues can't be postponed. "It will lead to better state services in public health but also changes for the benefit of primary healthcare," he added.

Concerning the treatment cost of Covid-19 for the Greek hospital system, he said that this was estimated at 3.7 million euros per 1,000 confirmed cases, which meant that the hospital treatment for the current phase of the pandemic will likely exceed 10 million euros. Each case admitted to an ordinary hospital ward costs roughly 8,800 euros, while the cost of a case admitted to intensive care rises to 24,100 euros, he said.

Greece was among the countries that took immediate measures to deal with the repercussions of the pandemic, and with the extra fiscal space arising on an EU level, central government has spent 200 million euros to deal with the pandemic, hiring 200 health specialists at the National Organisation of Public Health. It has also set in motion the hiring of 4,200 doctors and nurses and lowered VAT on personal protection equipment to 6 pct.

Kyriopoulos stressed that good cost estimates were vital in allocating resources during the pandemic, since every misuse of the system's scarce resources translated into a potential loss of lives.

On the direction of future investment in healthcare, he said Covid-19 had shown that the best and biggest investment should be in training, research and the development of human and intellectual capital in the health system. The next priority should be to increase the number of ICU beds to the EU average, from 6 to 11.5 per 100,000 population, through a three-year investment programme.

He noted that the country needed a strong "state public health service" supported by a well-trained body of health care professionals in central administration and in local government. He also called for reforms in primary healthcare toward a "mixed network" supervised on a regional level that will include public, private and social healthcare facilities.