Queues at the Alameda-Perchel Health Centre in Malaga, on Tuesday. / SALVADOR SALAS

Sixth wave of Covid starts to overwhelm Malaga health centres as they face a 'perfect storm'

The increase in the number of coronavirus infections, the shortage of staff, third jab appointments for adults and the first for children, and the requests for vaccination certificates are pushing primary care to the limit

ÁNGEL ESCALERA

Malaga's primary care system is on the point of collapse as the sixth wave of the coronavirus pandemic in Spain takes hold.

The increase in the number of Covid-19 infections, which has triggered requests for PCR and antigen tests; the administration of the third jabs for adults and the first in children; tracing the contacts of people who test Covid-19 positive; the demand for vaccination certificates and the shortage of professionals are pushing health centres to the absolute limit, as long queues form outside their doors.

"We want to cry"

“We are overwhelmed; we can't cope. We do everything we can and a little more, but this situation is untenable. We feel helpless and want to cry. We have never seen anything like it. We are exhausted," said health professionals speaking to SUR.

They have to cope with the enormous healthcare pressure not only without additional staff, but also having to cover for colleagues who cannot work because they have been infected with Covid.

Four out of 10 doctors off sick

“In my health centre, of the ten doctors on the staff, four are on sick leave for various reasons. And as there is no possibility of hiring extra staff. We have more work than we can cope with, which can result in delays of 14 days to see patients for consultations," explained a doctor.

"We are seeing 40 and 50 patients a day, and we have even reached 60," said the professional.

Patients frequently say that when the use the Salud Responde application to make an appointment with their doctor, a notice appears saying that at that moment an appointment cannot be scheduled and, if it is something that cannot wait, it recommends that the person go to their health centre without delay. This notice is shown when the delay for a medical consultation exceeds 14 days. In recent days, because of the increase in infections, more and more health centres now have this delay to make an appointment.

"Perfect storm"

“People think that the delay is our fault, but it is not; we do not give the appointments. This is a bureaucratic issue, an administrative issue," said another GP, adding: "The health centres are going through a perfect storm. With the increase in Covid cases, which has forced the number of PCRs that are done to triple and to attend to many more patients, we have to deal with outbreaks of coronavirus in schools, the vaccination of children and adults and, if we did not already have enough to do, now there are the queues of people who come to request a vaccination certificate. This is crazy. We are exhausted and disappointed.”

Covid certificate requests

In relation to the Covid certificate requests, the Junta de Andalucía stressed that people who want to get the document in person, instead of downloading it online, should not go to their health centre, but go to their health district offices, as it is an administrative issue and not a healthcare issue.

“There are many primary care professionals on sick leave due to the coronavirus and there is no possibility of replacing them as there are no doctors and nurses available to be hired," said health sources, "The staff, although they do their best, cannot give more of themselves than they already give."

Christmas mobility and the Omicron variant

The Andalusian Health Service (SAS) has hired 35 extra administrative staff for the Malaga health centres, said sources, who consider that the saturation that primary care system is suffering may reach hospitals in a few weeks if infections continue to rise, something that is expected to happen for two reasons.

Firstly, due to the greater mobility and the family and friends gatherings that will take place at Christmas and, on the other, due to the presence of the Omicron variant, which is more transmissible and is expected to be the predominant one in two or three weeks.