Data / Stories

40% of Hungarians Die of Preventable Causes

According to Eurostat, 41% of Hungarians who have died under the age of 75 in 2015 could have been saved by medicine.  

Romania fared worst with 48.6%, while the EU average was 33.1%

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The reason these Hungarians had to die: chronically underfunded health care, debilitating shortage of health care workers – while the government spends the same taxpayer money to build dozens and dozens of lavish stadiums. There isn’t even a nice-sounding government promise to do anything about healthcare. They do this on purpose and without denying it.

In the meantime, stories of often high-profile cases dying in hospital without being treated keep making the rounds on social media. This lady documented the last days of her mother dying for what essentially turned out to be the complete lack of care. They only fed and hydrated the old lady whenever her daughter was around, but didn’t even bother to find out what the cause of her ailment was. At 81 she was too old and when resources are scarce, they have to be rationed.

When it dawned on me that my mother was drinking large amounts every time I visited her (sometimes more than half a liter at once, while previously it was difficult to have her drink a small cup of tea, glass of water or a soft drink), I thought that she was at risk of dehydration, as she is not getting enough fluids. Then I also wondered: are they feeding her properly?

But this was not what I spoke about when meeting with the doctor. I asked him: “If there is a problem with my mother’s brain, why are they not treating her in the neurology department? If she is in a critical condition, why is she not in intensive care?

Dr. Zoltán Greff had this to say:

“They do not transfer anyone from this department.”

“But why not?” I asked.

The doctor bowed his head and did not answer.

“Perhaps because she is old?”–I asked.

“That’s one way of putting it,” he responded.

“So my mother must die?”–I asked.

“That’s one way of putting it,” the doctor answered.

On that day, February 26, 2018, in a few hours, I received the phone call: tonight, at 7:40 PM, your mother died.”

But the story didn’t end there. The daughter signed off on all paperwork, didn’t ask fr an autopsy (no one ever does), but when she received the results, she was shocked. The reason of death was listed as “heart failure”, even though that was never in the cards. For those who work in Hungarian health care it is not surprising at all, even cases of starvation and freezing to death (increasingly common occurrences these days) are recorded as “the heart stopped”. Maybe that adds to the poor heart disease statistics…

Upon further investigation it turned out that this lady didn’t receive any care whatsoever. The experimentation to set the dosage of her medicine never took place, even though that was told to her daughter.

With difficulty, I received copies of her hospital records, as well as the results of tests conducted in the emergency ward. I was only able to obtain these in person and by submitting a written request. It took a full month for me to receive these after I had already paid the required fee.

From these documents it became clear that the hospital never experimented with any medication in order to determine the “problems with her brain.” Moreover, during her 12-day hospital stay, not a single laboratory test or any other test was ever ordered by the doctor. In the hospital records, the only medication that was listed was that which I dictated to the first doctor I spoke with over the phone, and which my mother had taken for the past four years. Additionally, the only time my mother received fluids through infusion was on the day of her death, immediately before regular visiting hours. And perhaps this was for my benefit, not for hers.

Now it was the question whether there was any need for psychiatric ward (no, it is just a place to let dying patients lay until the end, everyone knows it) and tying her mother to the bed.

As soon as she arrived in the psychiatric ward, she was physically restrained to her bed. The explanation was this: “auntie always wants to go.” Naturally, while she had strength, she wanted to get up, she would have wanted to go to the washroom, but she did not know her way around and she needed someone to escort her. Of course the solution was not to escort her to the toilet, but to put diapers on her and tie her to the bed.

Translation

Naturally, this story came from a Canadian. A Hungarian living at home would never be surprised. We have read similar stories about young people, about celebrities’ relatives (that hit the media because of their celebrity status) and once even a beloved children’s storyteller died between two hospitals, denied care for a breathtakingly common and simple problem she also knew about.

In November 2016 a decomposed corpse was found in a washroom of Jahn Ferenc Hospital in Budapest. The corpse had been there for days because the washroom had not been cleaned for days. The reason was simple: when healthcare was running low on cleaners, soap, and even brooms, the ministry reduced the required cleaning frequency of the hospitals. A gas station bathroom needs to be cleaned every 30 minutes. A hospital bathroom only every other week.

Another time a rat fell out of the ceiling of a hospital. The ministry cried sabotage, even though photos of the hospital (and any hospital) show that rats are probably the least of the problem.

It appears that unless you are a Fidesz politician or crony who can afford to go abroad for treatment, you really are on your own when you get sick. People dread getting into a hospital and try not to think about it – while they often see relatives and loved ones being ignored or even dying from preventable causes. They bring soap, gauze, toilet rolls, light bulbs and medicine to the hospitals for their loved ones, but that’s not a solution.

Yes, I do contrast the underfunding of health care with the money lavished on football because it goes from the very same budget. And because one is the leader’s priority, another is just a way to weed out the weak and old. The only thing that’s comparable in health care and football is the degree of corruption. While nurses and doctors never see a pay rise (only condescending lectures from politicians), the background bureaucracy is shockingly cynical and thriving. Cronies out there still find ways to skim the healthcare budget. If anyone else did that privately, it would be called manslaughter. If the state bureaucracy does it, it is called public procurement and nothing can be done.

In the meantime, volunteers try to paint hospital wards and one TV mechanic distributes used-but-fixed old TV sets to children’s wards, but they can’t replace missing diagnostic equipment or perform surgeries in the absence of doctors. Wards shut down when the last doctor leaves or retires, while those who can afford opt for private medical care instead. But even private medical care relies on state hospitals for part of the care, so no matter how much you pay, you can’t avoid state hospitals and their overworked, underpaid staff.

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