Hungarian hospitals ordered to discharge patients to clear beds for coronavirus victims
Updated 01:09, 17-Apr-2020
Isobel Ewing in Budapest

The Hungarian government has ordered all public hospitals to free up 60% of their beds to make space for COVID-19 patients.

Critics say the move to evict thousands of existing patients will leave many without the care they need.

The government's coronavirus taskforce says the order to vacate 36 thousand beds is necessary as a spike in cases is imminent, and the country must be prepared for the worst.

"Let's look around Europe at what images we see of foreign hospitals when there are new coronavirus patients in the corridors and the affected wards are overloaded, there is no room for the COVID patient," Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller said.

Muller says patients should be either sent home to be cared for by relatives, or if their condition warrants it, sent to another hospital.

The directors of two hospitals have been sacked by the government for refusing to follow the order, including director general of the National Institute of Medical Rehabilitation, Péter Cserháti.

Cserhati gave an emotional speech to staff after his ousting, saying the order to vacate beds "jeopardised the high-level future of rehabilitation" at his facility.

Health experts say the move doesn't make sense. Dr Balasz Rekassy told CGTN that even if 36 thousand beds are freed up, the bigger issue is that there aren't enough ventilators -  just 1,500 for the entire country.

"This is a totally stupid policy at this stage, if you just look at the number of cases and the resources they're planning to free up," he said.

A mobile epidemic hospital built in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic in Kiskuhalas, South of Budapest. (Credit: Gergely Botar/ Pool/ AFP)

A mobile epidemic hospital built in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic in Kiskuhalas, South of Budapest. (Credit: Gergely Botar/ Pool/ AFP)

According to Rekassy, not all hospitals are ready to receive those infected with coronavirus. He says it would be better to separate hospitals so that certain facilities can be dedicated to the care of COVID-19 patients.

Rekassy added that for many chronically ill patients, such as those recovering from a stroke, it's not possible to simply send them home.

Dr Adrianna Soos, the president of the independent healthcare workers union, said the extreme measure is not in proportion with the spread of COVID-19 in Hungary.

Officially confirmed cases passed 1,600 on Thursday, with the number of deaths approaching 150.

"It is not solved, where to put all the suddenly dismissed patients, who are in severe condition. The time frame was not enough to figure it out, and in many cases the families are not ready to take them," she said.

Soos says many patients require treatment that cannot be administered by their families.

According to data from the Hungarian Association of Health Economics, 50-70 thousand people per year are cared for by nurses in their homes.

Experts say the country doesn't have the resources to rapidly scale this up to care for the thousands soon to be without a hospital bed.