Telephone consultations and staff shortages are making it difficult for patients to see their GPs

People queue outside a health centre in Malaga.
People queue outside a health centre in Malaga. / FRANCIS SILVA
  • With so many health workers on holiday and an increasing number of positive Covid-19 cases, most medical centres have no appointments for at least two weeks

The pandemic has exacerbated the problems which were already affecting health care in Malaga. It is still almost impossible to see a doctor in person, anywhere in the province. When someone tries to make an appointment via Salud Responde, they receive an automatic message saying there are none available in the next 14 days. When there are some, they are all telephone consultations. It is impossible to see a GP without speaking to them on the phone first, even when it is obvious that a physical examination will be necessary.

Even a simple check-up has become an ordeal. Irene, who is 19, is an example. Several weeks ago she noticed a lump behind her ear. She tried to make an appointment via Salud Responde, but it was impossible. She went to the health centre with her mother, and was seen by a nurse, who said she didn't think the lump was anything important, but that a doctor should see it. Even though Irene had been told by the nurse to see her GP, she still had to make an appointment and only a telephone consultation was possible. "My mother complained," she says, "because the nurse told us that my doctor needed to examine me."

Something similar happened to Manuel, who is 40, when he went to the Regional Hospital in Malaga with a sprained shoulder. They put his arm in a sling and told him to make an appointment to see his doctor, to check his progress.

"First there were no appointments, then they arranged a sick note for me over the phone. A week later I rang for an appointment for my check-up, but they said I had to speak to the doctor by phone first. I need him to see how my shoulder is doing. My arm is in a sling. How can he do that by phone?" he says.

Then there were no appointments again, according to Salud Responde. These problems continued for several days, "until finally I managed to get a phone appointment with another doctor at the health centre, and she told me to go and see her". This situation, say some professionals, has led to more people going to A&E for medical attention.

The rise in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks is putting more pressure on the health care system, and it is not only the hospitals that are affected.

Under pressure

Every wave of the pandemic is affecting primary healthcare as well, because health centres are responsible for diagnosing and tracing Covid-19 cases and monitoring patients who test positive but do not need hospital treatment. Those are the majority, especially in a wave in which most cases are in people aged between 15 and 29.

The Medical Union of Malaga says the situation is now "critical", with each GP having to make up to 60 or 70 phone calls a day.

This new outbreak of cases has coincided with the holiday season. Half of the staff are away and the Andalusian Health Service has barely covered their absence. In addition, most health centres are only open in the mornings.

Nor is it just the doctors who are overworked. Nurses, on whose shoulders the weight of the vaccination campaign has fallen, are unable to carry out all their normal duties either.

Unions are demanding that replacements be allocated for all staff who are on leave, and the Andalusian Health Ministry has just announced over 25,000 replacements this summer, 5,414 of them in Malaga province, to try to meet the demands on the system from residents and tourists who need medical care.