Coronavirus surge tests limits of primary healthcare in Europe

Coronavirus surge tests limits of primary healthcare in Europe

Madrid: Like many people, Alberto Perez of Madrid used a home test to discover that his headache and cold-like symptoms were caused by COVID-19.

Unable to contact his local health center, where calls went unanswered and online appointments were booked up for the following week, he turned to a hospital emergency room for confirmation. After waiting three hours to be seen, health workers there agreed with his self-diagnosis but provided no PCR test to ensure a more reliable result.

The nurse seeing me said that, because I had not lost my sense of taste or smell, I had the Omicron variant, said Perez, 39, who works as an online game developer in the Spanish capital. But how could she know?"

Overwhelmed by people wanting tests, requiring medication or needing certificates to excuse their absence from work, primary health care services in Spain are operating well past their limit during the current phase of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Family doctors are usually the first stop for health care in Europe. In a country that only a few weeks ago thought itself relatively safe because more than 80% of the target population is fully vaccinated, the mounting workload in Spain has prompted doctors and nurses to cancel regular checkups for conditions other than COVID-19 and postpone visits to vulnerable people at home.

Primary health care requires better funding and investment in all (OECD) countries, she said, to ensure more staff, more training, better pay and working conditions, and a more flexible delivery of care.

In France, years of funding cuts to the public health system are blamed for shortages of doctors in rural areas.

There's a similar problem in Italy, where general practitioners are feeling the weight of the latest surge as well as the burdens of increased paperwork to certify people are safe to return to work and school, officials say.

Repila, the Spanish union spokeswoman, said authorities should be worried about the consequences.

If you take the test at home, what variant of the virus do you have? We don't know, she said.

Contact tracing, once viewed as a key to halting the pandemic, is something that has been long forgotten.

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