Doctors are working in coats, patients are freezing as one hospital building gives in to the cold. Ministry reassures everyone that it only happens when it’s really cold, once a year.
One hospital’s emergency ward has been partly evacuated, partly equipped with oil-burning space heaters (brought by the staff from home) as the unusually cold weather beats the building’s non-existent insulation. The windows do not close properly, the draft is overwhelming in the wind. The building was built in the 40s and last renovated in 1984. Governments ever since have starved state healthcare and let it rot. The corruption that unfolded has been as much an attempt to finance healthcare privately as it was endemic in the country. With the system of bribes and informal patient lists, the rotting healthcare could operate for a bit longer, patients pumping as much into the pockets of doctors every year as it would cost to pay all hospital debt. Sadly, however, that money doesn’t buy diagnostic equipment, cleaning, heating, or building renovations. Or blanket and space heaters.
It is impossible to even begin to explain how the dying state healthcare system is really dying. Not just in statistics (there, too), but in everyday reality. This is just a tiny, very typical example of what we all see when we enter the system.
Today, in the state-financed free healthcare system you must bring your own medicine, helpers, blankets (they had to be summoned from private sources this time, too) and food – and bribe doctors to look at you. It is irrational to trust the endurance of healthcare workers to overcome all these hurdles and expect first rate healthcare in a situation when underfunding has affected everything from diagnostic equipment to doctors’ morale. Nurses are so overworked an underpaid, they are running on Stockholm syndrome. But patients desperately try to wish all those problems away and put their trust in the visibly failing system – because there is nowhere else to put it. The private healthcare is too basic and underdeveloped to deal with complex issues – thanks to the general hostility to private anything in this country. Denial of reality and insisting on ideological make-believe in the face of real life counterevidence are powerful forces. And they kill.
When the news of the 10 degree hospital came out in the pesky independent media, the ministry offered an explanation that is in many ways worse than an admission of failure. They matter-of-factly stated that it only happens in the coldest time of the year, implying that it is acceptable and there is nothing to see here. They also explained that they are practically triage-ing the healthcare system itself, trying to decide which parts of the hospital buildings are the most at danger of collapsing at any given time and use the scarce resources to renovate those if they can. They are putting out fires, not running things sustainably.
Now read this together with Orbán’s deeply contemptful remarks about the state of hospitals. When someone managed to accidentally ask him about it, he rambled about hospitals going into debt (to get basic operations financed) and then reluctantly barfed up a patronizing promise to have every room painted where a patient might set foot in. But no extra money for it, ungrateful peasants. You would only spend it all on candy.
The pandemic did not improve his view on healthcare. As a matter of fact, he decided to solve the issues by going into war against doctors. The military has been put in charge of hospitals and healthcare workers are pressured into a quasi-military status because all we need is a strong hand and unquestionable hierarchy and orders to fix the bad news coming out of the system.
Featured image: nepszava.hu