Bracing for mass COVID-19 infections, Hungary frees up 60% of hospital beds
Last week Hungarian hospital leaders received a letter from the Ministry of Human Capacities ordering them to free up significant hospital capacities, television station RTL Klub reported. The letter instructs hospitals to make at least 60% of their publicly funded hospital beds available until 15 April, Wednesday.
The letter also states that every patient whose condition makes it necessary must be transferred to other institutions.
Responding to the station's question, the Ministry said that as Hungary is bracing for mass coronavirus infections, they must prepare for the worst-case scenario which requires cooperation from everyone, including families who can manage to take care of their relatives at home.
The Ministry's letter was first reported by political daily Népszava on 9 April, writing that 60% of hospital beds must be prepared for treating coronavirus patients, in practice, this means that 36 000 beds of the approximately 60 000 must be emptied.
A hospital manager told Népszava that not all of the 36 000 hospital beds are occupied, as they only admit patients requiring urgent care. The paper reminded that this measure could cause problems for vulnerable elderly patients whose home care could not be solved due to social or medical reasons. A woman speaking to RTL said that it seems nearly impossible to find a retirement home to place her mother who was discharged from a hospital over the weekend despite needing 24-hour care, as the waiting lists are at least a couple of months long. The Civil Liberties Union, an NGO providing pro-bono legal services commented that this is hardly unique, as they have already received several requests for help from people in similar situations.
As to why this is necessary, Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller said at Tuesday's press conference of the government's coronavirus task force that:
"You have to look around the world, if you watch the news, you see what is happening. We have to prepare. Everybody who needs it must have access to treatment. I'd like to remind you that we started preparations three weeks before the WHO confirmed coronavirus as a pandemic, and that was a good decision as it seems we are managing to keep the curve on the current trajectory. Still, we are always preparing for the worst-case scenario, we have to be prepared for a large number of cases simultaneously needing hospital care."
As of Tuesday, there are 1512 confirmed coronavirus cases in Hungary, 122 have recovered, and 122 have died.
Update: On Wednesday evening, the Hungarian government's coronavirus website clarified the process: Until 19 April, hospitals have to free up 50% of their capacities, and a further 10% in a next step. Hospitals received the number of beds they should be freeing up, however, there is a possibility for hospitals to regroup free capacities within counties - you can find the county-level breakdown of the free capacity goals in the chart on the government's website here.
(Cover: The coronavirus ward of the Szent János Hospital ready to admit patients in Budapest on 27 March 2020. Photo: István Huszti / Index)
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