Thousands of doctors and nurses infected with coronavirus

Thousands of doctors and nurses infected with coronavirus

© Jens Buttner / dpa
Calls for help and warning signals: What actually happens when nurses and doctors fail because they are infected themselves?

According to the Robert Koch Institute, 2,300 doctors and nurses have already contracted Germany. The real figure is likely to be significantly higher. The consequences for the seriously ill could be dramatic.

Thousands of doctors and nurses infected with coronavirus

This week, Berlin’s hospitals surprised with an unusual appeal. They are currently in the process of increasing their capacities to cater for the growing number of Covid 19 patients, i.e. those who suffer from the coronavirus. Unfortunately, there is currently no material to protect employees, patients and residents. Replenishment on the markets is no longer guaranteed, which is why Berlin must now break new ground. The Berlin hospital company therefore asked volunteers to produce textile masks. “Craftsmen and handicraft companies, companies, workshops and other facilities are called, in which tailoring activities are carried out professionally,” it said in a press release. There was also a link to sewing instructions.

The appeal not only recalls the notorious shortage of protective equipment throughout Germany, but also the fact that doctors and nurses are particularly at risk when they look after the sick and infirm. And that they are both systemically important and difficult or impossible to replace. Now a survey by Suddeutscher Zeitung, NDR and WDR that thousands of doctors and nurses across the country have been infected with the coronavirus and that more and more practices have to close because the staff is sick, protective clothing is missing, or because problems with childcare are forcing employees to stay at home. So the crisis begins to hit medical personnel.

So far, there has been no systematic recording of failures

On request, the Robert Koch Institute announced, for example, that “2,300 medical personnel in hospitals across Germany were infected with Sars-CoV-2”. However, the number of unreported cases is presumably higher: “It must be assumed that it is under-recorded,” the institute explained. Only employees from hospitals are included in this count, not from doctor’s offices, laboratories, retirement and nursing homes or outpatient care services.

The federal government, several state governments and many German health authorities do not have systematically collected figures. A research team therefore wrote to nearly 400 health offices nationwide at the beginning of the week, as well as state medical associations, statutory health insurance associations, professional associations and state governments with the request for information on the numbers of medical personnel infected by the coronavirus. Most state governments and the Federal Ministry of Health said that no information could be given.

Medical representatives are now demanding that the numbers be better recorded. These are important because they provide information about the burden on the health system. Since the beginning of the pandemic, governments around the world have declared that the massive restrictions in public life have primarily served to prevent health system overloading. Often, reference is made to the limited number of intensive care beds, but less frequently to the people who should take care of all the sick. And it is neither systematically nor centrally merged how high the infection rate among medical staff is.

The Robert Koch Institute recommends that when reporting corona infections, information about the job of those affected is also included, for example if they work in a hospital. In everyday life, however, this is obviously handled very differently. There are also no standardized reporting channels. Thus, there are currently no reliable figures in Germany about how much the pandemic is burdening medical personnel.

However, the figures that SZ, NDR and WDR have put together suggest that thousands are affected across Germany. According to the State Ministry of Health, 322 employees of outpatient and inpatient care facilities were infected in the most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia by Wednesday of this week. Another 1485 people were in quarantine. The health of employees in nursing homes or outpatient care for the elderly is particularly important because they are in constant contact with particularly vulnerable risk groups. The country could not provide any information on the number of infected doctors. According to the State Health Office, 566 infections in medical staff were registered in Baden-Wurttemberg by Wednesday, almost twice as many as in the previous week. A noticeable message came from the Zwickau district in Saxony: According to the local health office, 60 doctors and nurses were infected in the district.

The request to health authorities across the country led to a strange reaction in Bavaria: The Bavarian State Ministry of Health and Care instructed the health authorities not to answer the press request, “because these surveys were not coordinated with us”, as it said in the message . The state government itself could not provide any specific information on request.

This is all the more surprising given that the state is particularly affected by the Corona crisis. According to the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians in Bavaria, 244 medical practices are currently closed in the Free State – 141 due to quarantine, 82 due to lack of protective equipment, 21 due to a lack of childcare. This puts the federal state far ahead in a nationwide comparison, followed by Baden-Wurttemberg, among others, where at least 80 medical practices are closed. Only on Wednesday the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians in Bavaria turned to the public with a cry for help and spoke of a “blatant lack of necessary protective equipment”. “If new material does not arrive today, dark times will begin for outpatient care in the Free State,” said a press release.

In Italy, 66 doctors have already died from Corona

Physicians consider the lack of reliable figures to be a failure of state and federal policies. It is “sad and incomprehensible that countries like Italy and Spain have these numbers, but we do not,” says Susanne Johna, chairman of the Marburger Bund, which represents 125,000 doctors in Germany. “As the Marburger Bund, we demand that medical personnel – separated according to occupational groups, i.e. nurses, doctors – be recorded centrally across the country, so that we can compare the diseases there with the number of diseases among the population who do not work in the health service.” Infection tests by medical personnel should also be evaluated preferentially.

In other countries, at least conscientious counting is used. The British College of Physicians’ professional association, the Royal College of Physicians, has recently reported that around a quarter of NHS doctors are either infected or in quarantine. According to their professional association, the Royal College of Nursing, there are around 20 percent of nurses. In Italian hospitals, according to the newspaper Il Messagero 6500 doctors and nurses were infected last week. The Italian medical association FNOMCeO publishes a list of deceased colleagues on its website: there are already 66 names.

In Germany there have recently been repeated calls for help and warning signals. The Wolfsburg Clinic temporarily stopped patient admission this week after 14 employees had tested positive for the virus. The first clinics are already discussing the use of an exception clause. The Robert Koch Institute formulated this in the event that there would otherwise be a “relevant shortage of personnel”. Accordingly, medical staff who have tested themselves positive for the pathogen may then also be used to treat Covid-19 patients.

And the joint general association, which represents a number of care facilities, recently asked the Federal Ministry of Health for advice by email: On the one hand, it said that it was obligated to equip the staff with breathing masks and protective clothing, and on the other hand, this equipment was hardly on the market anymore to get. This leads to the question of whether or not care should be taken of the residents or patients at all. And whether the nursing home would be liable if it asked its staff to work without being able to protect them adequately. No answer has so far come.

You will find all current information and recommendations from the Ministry of Health here.

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