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End Cost-Cutting in Germany’s Health Care Delivery!

March 22 , 2021 (EIRNS)—The German government’s panicked reaction to reports about negative side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which suspended the national vaccination campaign for a full week, is but the latest serious incident broadening popular discontent with the government’s handling of the pandemic. So far, barely 10% of the population have received the vaccine, and 100% are not likely to be reached before the end of 2023, at the present pace. A sign of hope is indications that finally, the government may give up its reservations against the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and purchase some of it. If Germany should do so, it would reach the quorum of four EU member states which forces the European Medicines Agency EMA to seriously consider putting the Russian vaccine on the list of licensed medical substances.

The acute problems in handling the pandemic, with rapidly increasing new infection rates which will lead to a hardening of the present lockdown, extending it into mid-April at least, can be traced to the policies of budget-cutting, privatizations, and streamlining of Germany’s hospitals over the past two decades. Already before the pandemic reached Germany, it had reduced the number of nurses in intensive care units by one-third and replaced many full-time nurses’ jobs with “full-time equivalents,” which means that two part-time nurses share one full-time job. Remaining ICU beds in many hospitals cannot even be used for lack of medical staff. A survey presented by the German Hospital Institute (DKI) in the autumn of 2019 documented all that in quite some detail.

The remaining personnel have been exhausted by forced overtime during the pandemic in 2021, government decrees have worsened the situation by suspending labor protection clauses; the Pflege-online journal for healthcare personnel even reports that in many cases, nurses with COVID infections have been forced to continue working. And—the job-cutting continues in hospitals despite the pandemic: the case of the Gesundheit Nord Bremen Hospital Group which is determined to fire 440 nurses and other staff, has made national headlines in the past days.

The healthcare staffers labor union ver.di has repeatedly raised the issue of a profound reversal of policies in walk-outs and warning strikes in the course of past year—but to no avail. The government decreed one-time extra payments of €1,000 to €1,500 for nurses and care personnel in 2020, but working conditions at hospitals have not been improved by substantial new employment. The idealism characteristic for this labor sector has been exhausted, therefore it does not come as a surprise that recent opinion polls warn that up to 30% of medical personnel are considering quitting their jobs before the end of 2021.

Calls are being made already, notably also in Germany’s leading news weekly Der Spiegel a week ago, for the resignation of Health Minister Jens Spahn. Replacing him without changing the government’s healthcare policies, however, will not prevent the drama of a collapsing hospital system which Germany is heading towards.

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