Internal figures: In Berlin hospitals, every fifth nurse is missing

picture alliance / dpa | Gregor Fischer

The number of corona infections in Germany is falling every day, but the situation in hospitals is often not easing. As of Thursday (February 11), 3,675 people with a corona infection were in an intensive care unit, 436 more than the day before. Half of the patients are artificially ventilated, every third dies.

The pandemic is a backbreaking job for doctors and nurses in hospitals. Physically and mentally. Internal documents from Europe’s largest municipal hospital operator Vivantes in Berlin show for the first time how serious the consequences are: According to this, one in five nurses is missing on average in the nine clinics, and sometimes even one in four. Failures due to quarantine are not even taken into account.

Excerpt from a current Vivantes supervisory board document

Excerpt from a current Vivantes supervisory board document

The documents therefore warn: “Increasing aggravation of the personnel situation”. Because the absenteeism of one’s own employees can no longer be compensated with temporary workers (“leasing”). The demand has been rising steadily since May 2020, but more and more inquiries from personnel service providers are being rejected. Recruitment agencies are increasingly canceling jobs that have already been agreed. According to internal Vivantes information at the end of last year, the cancellation rate was over 16 percent.

Excerpt from a current Vivantes supervisory board document

Excerpt from a current Vivantes supervisory board document

On the one hand, it is said from clinic circles, the risk of infection – and thus a longer absence of an employee – drives the recruitment agencies to send their employees on short-time work rather than placing them. On the other hand, the loan workers are also afraid of an infection: Some did not go to work after they learned that patients with a confirmed virus infection were admitted to wards where no corona sufferers are actually cared for, and that they were transferred waited in the specially protected clinic areas. In Berlin-Neukölln, a sister broke off her night shift when she noticed that three corona patients were being cared for on her ward.

For the hospitals, all of this leads to an additional burden on the existing staff – and to a high risk outside the clinics: Employees report not only at Vivantes, but also in other clinics that they should appear for duty due to a lack of staff, even though they are had close contact with corona infected people and should therefore actually be in quarantine. The only requirement: You should wear an FFP2 mask and ensure adequate hygiene.

After an outbreak of the dangerous coronavirus mutation from Great Britain in a Vivantes clinic in Berlin-Reinickendorf, for example, doctors and nurses were not left at home, but a so-called “shuttle quarantine” was invented. After that, employees should either stay at home or at work – of course, they should be able to use local public transport.

17,000 vacancies even before Corona

However, it is also a fact: Even before the corona pandemic, the staffing situation in the clinics was problematic. Around 17,000 positions for nurses in Germany’s hospitals were not filled. And according to calculations by trade unions and the German hospital associations, there will be a shortage of up to 40,000 nurses in the medium term.

A problem that cannot be easily solved even with specialists from abroad. Experts are pushing for a kind of care initiative with which significantly more young people than now are starting a corresponding training. But this often fails because the jobs are not paid well. Nurses receive 2500 euros per month. In contrast, the average salary in Germany is almost 4,000 euros.


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