It has been more than three weeks since the Junta de Andalucía announced that health centres would resume their face-to-face activities so that "anyone can visit their family doctor or nurse in a fluid way."
But the reality contradicts the commitment from the regional governement’s Minister of Health, Jesús Aguirre.
The public health authority has recovered only a fifth of the face-to-face consultations that it saw before the pandemic, about ten per doctor per day compared to the more than fifty before the coronavirus crisis. The rest of appointments are resolved by phone, as professionals claim to be screening patients to avoid crowds and potentially increasing the risk of spreading the coronavirus in waiting rooms.
The College of Physicians of Malaga member Ángel García Arjona, says, "Telephone appointments become face-to-face if we consider it necessary, but many issues can be resolved electronically."
García Arjona acknowledges that most of the public "continue to prefer face-to-face consultations" but warns that "we cannot allow six or seven people to get together in the waiting room."
But the shortage of face-to-face appointments is not only due to the need to avoid spreading the disease. The shortage of staff makes the situation “stressful", recognised the doctors’ association: "Working hours are what they are, and we have to attend to patients in the office, by phone and at home. And without reinforcements it is difficult.”
"We have worked, and we continue to do so, at a great pace, with multiple appointments and it is a situation that is leading us to physical and mental exhaustion," claimed Garcia Arjona.
Aware that a large percentage of the population prefers to attend face-to-face appointments, the College of Physicians clarified that “we do not refuse to attend to patients in person because what we like about our work is direct contact with the patients without the coldness of a telephone line in between", but it maintains that the pandemic has shown that a high number of queries can be resolved through telephone or video calls.