Coronavirus crisis putting the German healthcare system to test
By Grace Sheela Pickert, Germany
BERLIN – While the German healthcare system is considered as one of the best in the world, the coronavirus may just be the crisis that can put it to a hard test. As new Covid-19 cases rise for each day, some hospitals are already facing difficulties. The question is whether the German healthcare system can withstand the pressure and avoid a collapse as seen in Italy.
To tackle the pressure from the coronavirus crisis, Germany can rely on its most modern, richest and most powerful health-care systems in the world.
Even Chancellor Angela Merkel cited it as an “excellent health-care system”, calling it as “perhaps one of the best in the world” in her address to the nation last March 19. And compared to other countries, it is undeniably better equipped to deal with the corona epidemic.
The downside to the system is that with the rising incidence of Covid-19 cases, that system, however, equipped, is already starting to be overwhelmed. Aside from dealing with patients domestically, several federal states have also started admitting foreign emergency patients to support EU partners Italy and France in the treatment of critically ill corona patients.
All these demands will only make it harder for the healthcare system that is also hobbled by internal weaknesses.
In a report by German newspaper Der Spiegel, it cited the healthcare system’s weaknesses that may just make it harder for Germany to respond in the coming days: the pitfalls of profit-driven hospital financing that has resulted in staff shortages and government cuts in spending for infrastructure and equipment.
German hospitals are now dealing with 17,000 vacant nursing positions in the country and minimum staffing for hospitals remain unmet. There is also a need for 1,000 doctors in hospitals after staffing positions have been slashed by a third in recent years.
Budget cuts have also left hospitals in dire need of beds, respirators, protective gear, face masks and disinfectants.
While the German health spending rose from 167 billion euros to 246 billion euros between 2009-2019, the allocation for staffing and equipment were not prioritized, the report pointed out.
However, with the passing of the historic €750 billion emergency aid package by the German Parliament, the health ministry just got the boost that it needed. The emergency aid package will improve the ministry’s spending budget by as much as €3 billion enabling it to double its current 28,000 intensive care bed capacity and provide extra funds to a hospital that will cover costs of non-essential operations that had to be set aside to free up capacity for corona patients.
Another €3.5 billion in the aid package will be earmarked for, among others, buying of protective clothing, face masks, funding for vaccine development.
Meanwhile, hospitals in Germany are still coping with available resources to serve the medical needs of its Covid-19 patients.
Filipino nurse Aian Anthony Angeo, president of the Filipino nurses association in Germany said, stocks of medical supplies are still adequate but they have been told to limit the use of certain items.
“Madami pa naman ang stocks pero case-to-case basis din,” he said.
“Like sa hospital namin, madami pa pero limited ang pag-use ng mask na pang-virus. Yun ay ginagamit kung kinakailangan lang. Usually yung normal mask ginagamit nila sa ngayon,” he added.
While they still have protective masks in ample supply, he points to another problem in their hospital.
“Problem ng mga hospitals dito e yung delivery (ng supplies),” he concluded.
The latest confirmed cases in Germany are at 37,265 with 204 deaths. Recoveries were also reported at 2809 although these figures may not reflect the real number of recoveries as there is no obligation to report cured patients to the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s public health body.