The rebound in infections due to the omicron variant of coronavirus is once again taking its toll on health personnel, who see how the positives multiply in hospitals and health centers. In the last 14 days, more than 5,200 healthcare professionals have been infected in Spain, a figure that shows an average of more than 370 positives per day. However, these data refer to last December 23, and are the last that the Ministry of Health has offered, so it is presumable that over the days this figure has increased notably, at the explosive rate imposed by the new variant.
The sixth wave is impacting fully on an exhausted health personnel after almost two years of a pandemic. Although now, the worst part is not being taken by the hospitals or the UCIS, at least for now, because with the current volume of infections, it is only a matter of time before they reach alarming occupancy levels again, despite the fact that the majority of infections are mild. The current scenario has become a new storm that looms especially over primary care, dwhere its professionals face an overload of work in many cases unaffordable, to which they have to add those contagions that result in sick leave and reduce the workforce even more.
“We have a high level of protection, but we are not exempt from being infected and among health personnel the number of infections is increasing due to the high transmission of this virus. The sick leave, together with the enjoyment of regulatory permits typical of Christmas, they reduce the workforce between 30% and 50% in health centers, which translates into doubling the work due to absences and multiplying it by the influx of patients “, he explains to RTVE.es Lorenzo Armenteros placeholder image, spokesperson for the Spanish Society of General and Family Physicians (SEMG).
“The scenario is dramatic, because the situation we are seeing is going to be very difficult for the health system to have the capacity to take on such a volume of patients,” he continues, and details that in primary care consultations they dedicate “more than 60% of the time to COVID, between diagnosis, treatment, follow-up and administrative procedures, such as sick leave”, with a current average of “70 patients daily.”
To partially alleviate this situation, Armenteros calls for “decentralizing the diagnosis of asymptomatic patients”, since “it is possible to do it in other spaces where these antigen tests and PCR can be performed outside health centers, so as not to overload them” . Another of the measures that could be adopted, in his opinion, would be eliminate bureaucratic tasks, “that do not contribute anything for the clinic or for the prevention”. “At the end of the day, processing a sick leave in a patient who has no symptoms could be done from any non-health administrative structure,” he values.
“If the situation continues in the state in which we are, it will be necessary to reincorporate all the sanitary personnel who are with permits, and even so even with one hundred percent of the available staff it will be very difficult to bear it,” he predicts.
The irruption of the omicron variant, with a contagious capacity that is already compared to that of measles -which has always been the paradigm of infectiousness-, together with the celebrations typical of the Christmas holidays, represent a worrying breeding ground that threatens doubly these professionals. Thomas Toranzo, president of the State Confederation of Medical Unions (CESM), assures that “contagions among health personnel are soaring in an exponential way.” “To the professional environment, with a tremendous work overload, we must add the personal sphere, with the family meetings typical of these dates … So we become much more vulnerable, and contagions can be a bottleneck that puts stress on excess hospitals and primary care centers, where this wave is exerting a special pressure, “he adds.
“Infections translate into casualties that are overloading the health system, a situation that also occurs at a time of year when there were many vacations to take, accumulated days … And the casualties, vacations, retirements coincide, which this year have increased more, and the lack of medical professionals“, he continues, highlighting that in Spain” there is a shortage of doctors, and even if you want to make contracts, you can’t find them, since the recruitment pools are empty. “As he explains, many Spanish doctors have gone abroad, mainly to countries of the Union European, since there “they offer better paid conditions and better prospects from a professional point of view.”
With little margin to be able to increase the medical staff, Toranzo advocates avoid contagions as much as possible while reaching the peak of the new wave, that could arrive in the second half of January. “At this time, containment measures to stop infections are more difficult, because this is explosive, but the only thing that can be done is to intensify protection measures, which fortunately in that we are better than at the beginning of the pandemic, because now there is enough material, “he says.
The worst is yet to come
Humberto Munoz, Secretary General of the CCOO Health Federation, puts numbers on the dramatic situation of health workers in Spain: “In this wave we have around 20,000 professionals from the National Health System infected”, he calculates, aware that the worst is yet to come.
On this scenario immediately after the Christmas holidays, in which the peak of infections is expected to be reached, Muñoz believes that the toilets will face it “with the professionalism and delivery of previous waves.” However, it does not overlook the fact that it rains when it is wet, and so many months of pandemic are taking their toll on them. “From so many slaps, they are more and more resentful, more tired … Of course, also the doctors, but especially the nursing staff, who have had breaks, permits suspended … “, he says.
“Squads are being overloaded that, on the other hand, have not been reinforced either. I think the administrations are far below expectations. They are not injecting money, nor are they loyalty to staff, who in many cases are young and were hired specifically for COVID. They have given everything and now they are with the prize of being thrown out on the street, with how necessary they are. Not to mention the state of primary care … “, he continues.
“Be careful with the mantra that the omicron is lighter than the other variants and therefore we can be calmer, because we already have 8,000 people hospitalized for COVID in Spain and there are already UCIS that are above 30% of their occupation” , warns the general secretary of the CCOO Health Federation.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.