Private Doctors, Hospitals Won’t Join Greece’s COVID-19 Fight, Cases Soar

ATHENS – Despite COVID-19 cases soaring, driven by an even-more contagious strain from the United Kingdom and leading to public hospitals overflowing, As Greek Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias backed away from his vow to conscript private hospitals and doctors.

He had given them 48 hours to respond to the call but when they didn’t, there was only another appeal for them to help, almost all refusing apart from a few clinics and only 45 doctors out of a pool of 3,000.

Private hospitals in Greece are used mostly by the rich and those who can afford private health insurance and there’s been no word from the New Democracy government how many Intensive Care Units (ICU’s) and ventilators they aren’t using which could go to critically ill patients.

“The new mutation is extremely infectious. It is pants on fire. If Thessaloniki was burned with the old virus variant, things for us in Athens are unpredictable,” a doctor at Sotiria Hospital who wasn’t named told the newspaper Kathimerini.

Malvina Lada, a pathologist at the Sismanogleio Hospital said there’s no room there for patients needing intensive care, saying that, “We are preparing the surgery recovery room to put intubated patients there.”

This came after government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said while there was extreme pressure on the public health sector that it was unmanageable, the numbers indicating otherwise and as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also didn’t move, as promised, to commandeer private hospitals.

Two private hospitals were enlisted earlier to treat COVID-19 patients in Athens, where half of the country’s 11 million population lives, and Kikilias said that another would be repurposed to take more, said Reuters.

Cases, deaths, and patients in ICU’s are at record levels but the government, anxious to get the economy going again, is said to be considering easing just tightened measures in a third lockdown overwhelmed by a third COVID-19 wave.

Health experts said the situation will worsen through March even as a slow-rolling vaccination program is picking up, with the National Public Health Organization reporting 3,073 cases on March 19.

While that was down from a record 3,465 the day before, the record number of patients on ventilators rose to 645, from 630 the previous day and the Coronavirus is spreading primarily and faster in Athens and the area.

The number of new admissions to hospitals was 525, against a seven-day average of 453, which means that the number of people in intensive care will also continue to rise.

When a bed in a specialized coronavirus ICU becomes available, due to the patient having recovered or died, it is booked within seconds, through an online platform, for the next patient waiting, the paper said.

The bed is cleaned, disinfected and ready in minutes. Demand in the past few days has jumped out of control, with patients on portable ventilators waiting in rooms reserved for less severe Covid cases, doctors said.

TheFederation of Public Hospital Employees said  all available specialized ICUs were full at 11 Athens area hospitals, with only four ICU beds available in the city of Patra, western Greece, and nine Thessaloniki, the second-largest city, out of a total of 92.

Worsened by Greece losing thousands of doctors who left the country during a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis in search of work, there’s a serious shortage of physicians and specialists in overwhelmed public hospitals.

That is also affecting care for those patients who don’t have the Coronavirus and is even seeing surgeries delayed to concentrate on the fight against the pandemic, apart from private hospitals and doctors who won’t help.

A call for doctors in private practice to volunteer their services has gone largely unheeded and the Athens Medical Association is offering to forgive every volunteer five years of membership dues, the paper said, no report on whether there were any takers.


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