Hospital Santa Maria, in Lisbon Photo: JOÃO RELVAS/LUSA

Health service in meltdown: not due to illness, but to sheer numbers of people arriving without being ill

The flip side of mass-testing – and an SNS-24 hour hotline that simply cannot keep up with calls – has meant that hundreds of thousands of people, the majority needing little more than a PCR test, are arriving at A&E departments up and down the country, driving healthcare personnel to despair.

“This is unsustainable… doctors and nurses are thinking of simply giving up. They cannot cope with this level of demand”, a clinical director interviewed by SIC television news today explained, stressing that elevated waiting times are resulting in “atmospheres of conflict” making the whole exhausting drama even more unbearable.

As has been the call throughout the pandemic, hospitals everywhere are asking for more ‘hands on deck’.

Meantime, specialists are pushing for changes in the way the pandemic is handled: for example, they are saying that time of isolation for asymptomatic positive cases should be reduced from 10 to five days (in line with new policy in the United States). If this isn’t brought in, the number of people in isolation will simply become ‘uncontrollable’, and lead to high levels of worker absenteeism which will impact on the running of services, even essential services.

The health ministry has intimated it is looking into the possibility of reducing terms for isolation, but very little is likely to change before January 5 – the moment the government has set for decisions on incoming data.

Experts and advisors stress that what is needed now – beyond encouraging people to take up the offer of booster shots – is to lay down clear guidelines over access to healthcare units: citizens need to know when they should seek help, and when they do not need to seek help. In other words, if they have had a positive test, they should not be filing into A&E departments.

“They should self-isolate for five days”, epidemiologist Manuel Carmo Gomes tells SIC. “They can take a home test after five days, but it is FUNDAMENTAL that they do not go to hospital…” (unless of course they are feeling very unwell).

“We need a campaign to explain all this to people. We need a campaign to reinforce the SNS-24 helpline…”

An important fact also for people to understand is that Omicron, as a disease, appears to be much shorter than when people are infected by the Delta variant. This explains why a shorter period of isolation would be useful, Carmo Gomes told SIC, reinforcing his opinion of yesterday that the time has come to let people become infected naturally rather than chasing after further booster shots (click here).

“Trying to stop Omicron, is like trying to stop winter colds”, he said.

Orientation on this score should change “the sooner the better”, he told SIC.

But nothing is ‘clear’: Minister for Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva gave a press briefing today after a Council of Ministers, simply to say that no new measures in terms of containment or restrictions would be announced before January 5. This, to be frank, was already understood.

Mr Santos Silva also said that parents’ fears over the safety of vaccinating their children have abated.

January 6-9 is the next period for the mass vaccination of children (with vaccines albeit not adapted to Omicron click here), for which online ‘self scheduling’ is now open for the all age groups from 5-11 (click here).

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