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Support for frontline workers urgently needed

Update: September, 10/2021 - 09:07

 

Doctors at the COVID-19 Intensive Care Hospital in HCM City treat a patient in serious condition. VNA/VNS Photo

HÀ NỘI — Deputy Minister of Health Nguyễn Trường Sơn, head of the ministry’s special taskforce in HCM City for COVID-19 Prevention and Control, has sent a document to the city’s Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control outlining the dire conditions for medical staff and proposals to improve them.

In the official letter, Sơn said that to improve the quality of life of medical staff, on September 4, the ministry’s special taskforce in HCM City for COVID-19 Prevention and Control worked with several field hospitals.

The taskforce highly appreciated the working spirit and attitude of medical staff, who have overcome difficulties during the hardship of the pandemic when everything is lacking. The medical staff has gained expertise, ensuring the treatment and care guidelines of the Ministry of Health, the document said.

However, the taskforce also discovered some problems, directly affecting the health and mental health of medical staff serving at field hospitals in the area,

Doctors on duty for 12 hours

According to the document of the taskforce, each doctor and nurse must care for and manage 140-150 COVID-19 patients daily. The number of patients is too many, which reduces the quality of treatment and care.

Each working shift of doctors and nurses is usually 8-10 hours per day, in conditions when they have to wear protective clothing continuously, which can cause dehydration and electrolyte loss.

Doctors and nurses often have to be on duty 12 hours a day if they are mobilised for emergencies.

Field hospitals cannot not arrange time off for medical staff. After finishing professional work, medical staff continue to do administrative work continuously, up to 12 hours a day.

Some hospitals, after withdrawing their staff, did not make up for the withdrawal, adding to pressure on remaining staff. Too much work pressure directly affects the health of medical staff, the document said.

Mentally affected 

Every day, medical staff are given a meals worth VNĐ120,000 per day. The dishes are made in the southern style and not adjusted for staff coming from the northern region, making it difficult for many people to eat.

When medical staff are infected with COVID-19 during their work, they are transferred to patient areas. Here, meals of medical staff are changed to the standard meals of patients worth VNĐ80,000 per day. 

Security forces and the military regularly and strictly check medical staff when going out to buy food and drinks (requiring medical staff to open the bag to check). This affects each individual's private life, creates an uncomfortable feeling, and affects the spirit of medical staff, the document said.

Low income

In Hồ Chí Minh City, the average number of new cases is 5,300 people per day. More than 177,300 medical staff are fighting day and night. 

Medical staff work far more intensely than usual with many risks, while their income is plummeting. 

“We only receive a fixed salary according to the State's regulations, allowances and additional income have decreased 75 per cent,” said Nguyễn Thuỳ Linh, a medical employee at field hospital No 12 in HCM City.

Dr Vũ Hồng Quân from the the Eastern Military-Civilian Hospital told Tiền Phong (Vanguards) Newspaper that the hospital was treating more than 500 COVID-19 patients with underlying medical conditions, including many serious patients.

Quân said the basic salary of the hospital staff, including the director, had been reduced by 50 per cent because there is no source of income. The previous allowances and extra income have all been cut off.

“Some of the funding that was supposed to be provided from the central budget to the hospital has not been received. We’re having to manage daily expenses of the hospital on our own to take care of the patient's treatment and other expenses. The hospital has borrowed tens of billions of đồng since the outbreak, and the situation is becoming more and more difficult," Quân said.

Quân’s salary last month was only VNĐ5.6 million. Prior to this, he received about VNĐ12 million in salary every month, and other additional income.

However, he said that he was still lucky because many young doctors now received just over VNĐ3.1 million a month.

“Recently, we have overcome difficulties thanks to the food support from sponsors. Without their help, I would not know how to make ends meet in such difficult situations,“ Quân said.

However, the donations are limited, the sponsors are exhausted and the funds have almost run out.

“If the State does not take care of this, it will be very difficult for the doctors and nurses," said Lê Thanh Tình from Thủ Đức City Hospital.

Slow support

On August 2, Phan Thị Thắng, vice chairman of the People's Committee of HCM City, signed an official document on a support programme for frontline forces working in the pandemic.

Accordingly, the city implemented a specific policy, providing one-time support for frontline forces, with the amount ranging from 1.5 million to VNĐ10 million.

Specifically, for frontline medical staff working directly with COVID-19 patients, the support is VNĐ10 million per person; medical staff doing indirect work VNĐ4.5 million per person; and COVID-19 community groups VNĐ2 million per person.

A force of volunteers has been mobilised by the Department of Health to participate in the pandemic 

However, on September 7, leaders of many hospitals told Tiền Phong Newspaper that they had not yet received the support package.

Nguyễn Trọng Hảo, director of the Dermatology Hospital, said the hospital was in a very difficult situation, the number of patients had decreased by about 90 per cent, and the revenue of the whole hospital had decreased by more than 90 per cent. 

“We are looking forward to supporting policies and packages for the frontline staff but have not received them so far,” he said.

Lê Đình Thanh, director of Thống Nhất Hospital, said the hospital now had to work for the anti-pandemic mission, and had no revenue. 

“We’re using up our last resources; we’re running out,” he said. 

Proposals 

To encourage the fighting strength of medical staff, and improve the quality of treatment, the special taskforce of the Ministry of Health has proposed the HCM City's Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control implement a number of measures. 

These measures include requesting units that have withdrawn staff from field hospitals to immediately provide replacements to ensure staff numbers and avoid creating work pressure on the remaining medical staff; ensuring time off at the end of each shift for medical staff.

The taskforce also asked for limiting the use of medical staff for administrative positions to ensure professional work. If there is a lack of administrative human resources, it is proposed field hospitals mobilise students and volunteers for work.

It is also suggested that the steering committee ensure appropriate meals to ensure nutrition for frontline workers, with more options suitable for each region's tastes.

It is recommended that security and military forces only control the entry and exit of medical staff and absolutely do not violate individual privacy. — VNS

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