Cash-strapped Greek health service in crisis as hospitals run out of gloves and gownsEurope’s top health official said Greek
hospitals are in such dire straits that staff are failing to keep up
basic disease controlsGreece already has one of the worst
problems in Europe with hospital-acquired infections
experts fear this is being made worse by a severe economic crisis that
has cut health care staffing levels and hurt standards of care
20:36 GMT, 4 December 2012
Greece is facing a rise in hospital-acquired infections because its cash-strapped health service cannot afford basic supplies such as gloves, gowns and alcohol wipes.
Europe’s top health official said Greek hospitals are in such dire straits that staff are failing to keep up basic disease controls, threatening a rise in multi-drug-resistant infections.
Greece already has one of the worst problems in Europe with hospital-acquired infections, and disease experts fear this is being made worse by a severe economic crisis that has cut health care staffing levels and hurt standards of care.
Greece is facing a rise in hospital-acquired infections because its cash-strapped health service cannot afford basic supplies such as gloves, gowns and alcohol wipes (picture posed by model)
With fewer doctors and nurses to look after more patients, and hospitals running low on cash for supplies, risks are being taken even with basic hygiene, said Marc Sprenger, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
'I have seen places…where the financial situation did not allow even for basic requirements like gloves, gowns and alcohol wipes,' Mr Sprenger said after a two-day trip to Athens, where he visited hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
'We already knew Greece is in a very bad situation regarding antibiotic resistant infections, and after visiting hospitals there I’m now really convinced we have reached one minute to midnight in this battle,' he said.
Mr Sprenger said the situation means patients with highly-infectious diseases like tuberculosis (TB) may not get the treatment they need, raising the risk that dangerous drug-resistant forms will tighten their grip on Europe.
Many health workers have lost their jobs and others say they have not been properly paid for months.
Difficult: The economic crisis has devastated Greece. This is a picture of Greeks struggling as they wait to receive free food
Panos Papanicolaou, a member of a doctors’ union and a neurosurgeon at Athens’ Nikea General Hospital, said staff cuts mean as many as 90 to 100 patients a day wait in corridors with many unable to get treatment. In the chaos, some go untreated or come back again when they are far more seriously ill.
He said overworked nurses often treat twice as many patients as before and confirmed that the shortage of basic items like disposable gloves meant corners were having to be cut.
'If a nurse has to see 10 patients instead of five without disposable gloves it’s certain that the transmission of infections will rise rapidly,' he said.
Greece could soon face even more problems with its health care system if it runs out of money to buy drugs.
Another health official who asked to remain anonymous said a senior Athens hospital worker had told him there was no budget left for supplies at that hospital, so all its drug purchases were on credit.
Roberto Bertollini, the World Health Organisation’s chief scientist and representative to the European Union, told Reuters he too was worried about the rate of hospital-acquired infections in Greece. He said cuts to resources and staff only make it harder to adhere to infection control and hygiene rules.
'Countries have to be very careful when..choosing what to cut and what to keep,' he said. 'This is a very serious business which might impact the health of the population much more in the medium term, thus increasing rather than decreasing costs.'