This is no time to act coy. A study recently told us in hard facts what we had already surmised: that intensive care units at most regional hospitals are not up to the same standards as those in Athens and one or two other big cities. It’s no secret, but because no one likes to spread bad news or rock the boat, it was, like so many other problems, conveniently swept under the carpet.
Mistakes were made in the first few months of the pandemic and one of them was government officials touting the rapid increase in the number of ICU beds. Private foundations and individuals responded to the call and made sizable donations to bolster the health system. Every week or so, we’d be treated to the announcement of 400, 500 or 700 new ICU beds.
How real was the picture being painted? Experts know that getting five or even 10 new beds and their requisite equipment is one thing and setting up a proper ICU ward is quite another. It is a big job that required guidance, professionalism and management, not to mention time and specialized staff. Greece was and is running low on many specialists, such as anesthesiologists. But there was no time to make up for that as the pandemic raged.
Management also fell short, because hospital administrations are rarely selected because of their knowledge of running a hospital. And as soon as the discussion started about creating more ICU wards, MPs from all over the country started demanding that their constituencies be the first to benefit. The results were tragicomic. One administrator thought adding two new beds to each floor was tantamount to having a new ICU ward; cleaners without any proper training in sanitation were employed; foundations discovered that the hospital managements had given them inaccurate instructions with regard to the donations they needed.
Greece made huge strides in the area of civil protection and with the vaccination system. But it is no Denmark when it comes to the National Health System (ESY). ESY’s battle with the pandemic has been unequal from the start as it entered the fray already burdened by massive problems that had been accumulating for decades. For example, it was common knowledge that Greece ranked high among the countries failing to tackle the problem of hospital-acquired infections.
The politicians responsible for health issues started trying to rationalize the network of regional hospitals, only to come up against the cursed political cost.
We have an obligation and an opportunity right now – regardless of how awful this may sound – to rebuild the National Health System. The first necessary step is to flush political influence from hospitals’ administrations and to stop MPs from having a say in where a hospital or ICU will be located. Is this something that any government can accept? Is it something our political system and even the people can accept?