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GPs and hospitals are overwhelmed by patients with flu and colds at present

Many patients are consulting their GPs about respiratory problems.
Many patients are consulting their GPs about respiratory problems. / SUR
  • The regional government's health service activated a special plan on 1 December to cope with the situation

So many people are suffering from colds and flu viruses in Malaga at present that it is putting pressure on health centres and hospital emergency services. Doctors say they are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of patients with respiratory problems. “I have seen more than 100 patients in one day, between normal appointments and those who need to be seen immediately,” one GP told us this week.

Another GP said there is currently a full flu epidemic, and in addition many people have catarrh, pharyngitis, colds, bronchitis, pneumonia etc. As a result, there are delays in getting appointments and a considerable increase in the number of people who go to emergency departments instead.

In the first week of 2018 there were 79.67 cases of flu per 100,000 inhabitants in Malaga province; this was lower than the 102.37 in the last week of 2017. In Andalucía, 162.56 cases were registered per 100,000 inhabitants between 1 and 7 January, and 188.19 from 25 to 31 December.

“There is more flu than it would appear from the official statistics,” said one GP, because the procedure to register a case of flu is complex and involves filling in a great deal of information on the computer. Instead, doctors sometimes say a patient is suffering from a viral infection instead of flu, because they don't want to lose time when so many other patients are waiting to be seen.

Another GP said that, because they are allocated so little time to attend to patients in their surgeries, and because of a lack of reliable methods, it is often not clear whether someone has flu, severe catarrh, early pneumonia or a respiratory infection. “The only thing we can say is that at this time of year there is a considerable increase in respiratory problems,” he explained.

Another factor is that the flu this season is intense and presents a variety of symptoms: high temperature, shivering, aches and pains, dry and persistent cough, headache etc.

The regional government activated a special plan on 1 December to deal with the problem, and it is supposed to mean that extra staff are taken on at hospital emergency departments and health centres, but professionals working for the Andalusian health service say that they were extremely short-staffed over Christmas. “Last Friday there were only four of us on duty instead of ten,” said one GP who works in Malaga city.

The plan monitors several parameters: the increase in patients attending hospital emergency departments, health centres and observation rooms, the increase in the number of people admitted to hospital and those requesting home visits from GPs. The information is then compared on a weekly basis, and the appropriate measures are put into effect. However, the Andalusian forum for GP treatment (FoAAP) and the Basta Ya Malaga association have published a statement expressing their concern over the situation faced by doctors over Christmas and the New Year.

The patients who mostly go to emergency departments at this time of year are generally suffering from chronic health problems, especially those which are complicated by the cold weather and viruses.