With the change of the Infection Protection Act by the Berlin Traffic Light Coalition, most of the national protection regulations for the whole of Germany will be lifted from April. Parliaments of individual federal Länder can continue to take stricter measures for regional “hotspots”. There they can decide restrictions such as the obligation to wear masks or stricter access rules if there is a risk of overloading the health system, for example due to insufficient staff. But how is the situation in German clinics? We asked the experts how the omicron wave feels in clinics.
Many absenteeism among hospital staff
Even before the pandemic, hospitals repeatedly had staff shortages. But the high rates of new infections are having an even stronger effect across the board. “We have homes that have 20 percent more sick leave in the workforce than usual at this time of year,” says Dr. Gerald Gass, CEO of the German Hospital Society (DKG).
In the most recent survey by the German Hospital Institute (DKI), 90% reported having higher sickness absences than usual. At times, some clinics had to unregister from emergency care, and most could no longer offer many general care services due to staff shortages.
Vaccinated people are also infected
When infection rates are high, more people get infected. The same quarantine rules apply to medical personnel as to the rest of the population. It is usually ten days. “As more and more vaccinated people are infected through the Omikron variant, many doctors and nurses are also among the sick,” says Klaus Reinhardt, president of the German Medical Association.
Although vaccinated people would have a milder course, they would have to isolate themselves and therefore are not even able to work. In addition, hospital staff often have to care for sick family members. They were also missing shift schedules, explains Reinhardt.
The growing number of coronavirus-positive hospital patients is an additional problem for many hospitals. “More coronavirus positive patients and for whom Covid-19 is not the main reason for their stay in the clinic must be treated in all wards,” says the Gass clinic representative.
To protect staff and patients, ever larger infection wards should be established. Infected people are often treated in isolation in wards specially set up to slow the spread of the coronavirus. “This costs the staff that is actually needed elsewhere,” says Gass.
Three quarters of the clinics are working with restrictions
Sick leave and beds are not recorded centrally in real time, but according to the DKI, 75% of clinics work to a limited extent. This also means that some patients have to be transferred to other locations or outpatient visits have to be completely canceled.
Urgent interventions, such as cancer operations, are still performed and emergencies are also treated. Programmable treatments – so-called electives – are postponed in many places. “Anything that does not get worse with waiting or where it is reasonable to wait is postponed, such as knee joint operations,” says medical representative Reinhardt.
This may be medically justifiable, but patient representatives warn that an individual’s fate lies behind every postponed appointment.
“We see with concern that the chronically ill and disabled are refraining from having preventive medical checks, but also from carrying out the necessary operations, because many fear being infected in a hospital or in a rehabilitation facility,” says Martin Danner. He is the CEO of the Federal Working Group for Self-Help (Bag Self-Help), which advocates equality for the chronically ill and disabled. He calls for a general obligation to vaccinate, so that vulnerable people are better protected.
There are also economic consequences
Canceled treatments aren’t just upsetting to those who need them. Clinics usually make good money on outpatient exams and scheduled surgeries. If this source of income is lost for a longer period of time, this has economic consequences.
More than half of German hospitals were in the red last year. Inflation and rising energy prices also lead to large cost increases in hospitals. Nearly two-thirds of clinics are also forecasting a deficit for 2022 due to falling employment and lower employment.