Doctors in some of Poland’s worst-hit coronavirus hot spots have warned that the healthcare system is struggling to cope, as the country continues to record its highest ever coronavirus infection numbers.
Today, the health ministry reported a new daily high of 2,292 infections, over 300 more than the previous record, set yesterday. The number of active cases is at its highest ever level, while the number of deaths is at its highest since April.
The most challenging situation is currently in the provinces of Mazovia, Silesia, Łódź and Lublin, where shortages of ventilators and beds have been reported, according to news website Wirtualna Polska. Officials in Warsaw, which is in the Mazovia Province, are meeting today to discuss contingency plans.
Last Saturday, a 70-year-old man suffering from coronavirus died in the city of Toruń because doctors were unable to find him a place on intensive care anywhere in the province, reports TVN24. The patient had numerous coexisting diseases and required specialist help in an intensive care unit.
“However, in our hospital there are only two beds in the intensive care unit dedicated to coronavirus patients and they were both occupied at that time,” explained Janusz Mielcarek of the provincial polyclinical hospital.
The man died before a free bed could be found for him elsewhere in the province or in another part of Poland.
70-latek zakażony koronawirusem zmarł w szpitalu w Toruniu. Wymagał leczenia na oddziale intensywnej terapii. W szpitalu w Toruniu nie było jednak wolnych miejsc. Jak się okazało, w całym województwie kujawsko-pomorskim wszystkie miejsca były zajęte.https://t.co/9h2pT7sf0I
— tvn24 (@tvn24) September 30, 2020
Other hospitals around Poland are struggling too. Kraków’s University Hospital has 20 available beds in intensive care but has already admitted 22 patients, reports Gazeta Wyborcza.
“We don’t have any places for patients with coronavirus who require the use of ventilators. We can’t admit anyone,” said Marcin Jędrychowski, the hospital’s director.
Jędrychowski added that if the number of new infections continues to increase so rapidly, similar situations to the one from Toruń are likely, as there may be no available ventilators for patients.
“We spend more time calling other hospitals to look for free beds than we do on diagnosing the patients,” one anonymous doctor told Wirtualna Polska. “We are really struggling here. When I hear that the ministry has more beds in store, I need to ask, why are we not getting them?”
Other medics have also expressed their frustration that their supervisors are preventing staff from speaking publicly about the situation, reports Wirtualna Polska – echoing similar concerns to those voiced in spring.
However, in response to such reports the health ministry has offered its reassurances that the situation is under control.
It announced today that, out of 6,300 beds earmarked for coronavirus patients nationwide, just over 2,700 are currently occupied. Of 800 available ventilators, only 166 are in use.
“If we notice any problems in a given place, the decision is made at the district level and new beds for COVID patients are prepared,” said the health ministry’s spokesman, Wojciech Andrusziewicz, quoted by PAP. “We can still get more equipment” if necessary, he added.
— Ministerstwo Zdrowia (@MZ_GOV_PL) October 2, 2020
Earlier this week, the government announced new restrictions in response to the record numbers of new infections.
In areas with particularly high numbers of cases (labelled as “red zones”), bars and restaurants will close at 10 p.m. In “yellow zones”, masks will have to be worn in outdoor as well as indoor public spaces (as is already the case in red zones). And the maximum number of guests at weddings has been reduced nationwide.
⚠️ Aktualna lista powiatów objętych dodatkowymi obostrzeniami (żółtymi i czerwonymi).
— Ministerstwo Zdrowia (@MZ_GOV_PL) October 1, 2020
The recent “very dynamic increase in the number of cases” is a natural consequence of society’s “return to normality”, said the health minister, Adam Niedzielski. “This trend should be expected to continue in the near future.”
He reassured, however, that “the number of new cases is not the most important indicator informing us about the development of the pandemic”. What matters most, he says, is the number of occupied hospital beds and the number of people requiring respirators.
Main image credit: Jakub Wlodek / Agencja Gazeta
Agnieszka Wądołowska is deputy editor of Notes from Poland. She has previously worked for Gazeta.pl and Tokfm.pl and contributed to Gazeta Wyborcza, Wysokie Obcasy, Duży Format, Midrasz and Kultura Liberalna