COVID19: Private health sector drafted to help, nurses despair

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Cyprus’ health system is at capacity with over 200 COVID-19 patients being treated in state hospitals, with the government turning to the private sector for help while exhausted nurses lash out.

Around 205 COVID-19 patients were being treated in a COVID-19 assigned ward or an ICU at one of the country’s General Hospitals, 58 of patients are in critical condition with 35 on a ventilator.

Following a recent decision to open a COVID-19 ward with 28 beds at Larnaca General, the state hospitals’ operator (OKYPY) has assigned 30 beds at Paphos General Hospital for coronavirus patients.

Hospitals have been told to cut back on surgeries so staff can be relocated to COVID-19 wards.

With increased needs for staff and beds, public hospitals are feeling the crunch as authorities try to make more room for COVID-19 patients.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health officially began approaching private hospitals affiliated to the General Health System to ask for help.

Reportedly, the health service wants private hospitals to keep 30% of their beds free to accommodate patients from the public sector who will have to be moved out of state hospitals to make room for new COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, state nurses and doctors have criticised the authorities, blaming them for ill-timed measures, leading to an ‘unnecessary’ national lockdown which has put pressure on the economy and society.

Cyprus Nurses Union (PASYNO) has fired against the Health Ministry for keeping hospitals understaffed, despite having the time to properly establish ICUs from May to October when the virus was under control.

PASYNO in an announcement noted that currently, 200 nurses stationed at Nicosia General are on sick leave.

The union accused the OKYPY leadership of “creating more problems, rather than solving the existing ones, as a result, nurses are paying a high price with consequences to their physical and mental health, which in turn endangers the safety of patients”.

“They have decimated staff at the Nicosia General ICU, by splitting the ICU into three and opening up another ICU.

“The three ICU units are understaffed while staff that have been brought in were not given the necessary training to cope with COVID-19 cases,” PASYNO claimed.

PASYNO was backed by state doctor’s union PASYKI, which also issued a statement claiming that “Cyprus went into a general lockdown, not only due to the lack of beds and resources but also due to the lack of proper and timely management within public hospitals”.

OKYPY issued a statement on Tuesday refuting such claims, expressing its disappointment and ‘frustration’ with the nurses’ union.

“It is with great sadness and frustration that we read PASYNO’s announcement, which puts forward a number of inaccuracies and unsubstantiated allegations.”

OKYPY said the claims “distorts the reality” and “blatantly wrongs the colleagues who have been fighting with this the nightmare”.

The organization further argued that Cyprus’ ratio of nurses per COVID-19 patient, is considered among the best in the European Union.

“In recent months, in addition to hiring more than 250 nurses, beds in other wards and surgeries have been reduced to provide nursing staff, but unfortunately at this critical time, more than 20% of nurses are absent for various reasons,” stated OKYPY.