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Foreign medical personnel sent to Portuguese hospitals as nation grapples with third wave

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By Filipa Soares
Foreign medical personnel sent to Portuguese hospitals as nation grapples with third wave
Copyright  Armando Franca/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

The German military is sending doctors, nurses and ventilators to Portugal, where hospitals are close to being overwhelmed. The country is battling a devastating third wave of the pandemic with nearly half of its total coronavirus death toll registered during January.

The main hospital in the Portuguese city of Viseu (Centro Hospitalar Tondela-Viseu) is just one of the services working with stretched resources for weeks. On January 28, it reached a record of 278 hospitalised patients. According to its clinical director, Eduardo Melo, the number of patients hospitalised in January was close to the total number of patients hospitalised last year. Melo says that the situation is dire, but they're doing the best they can: 

"We have to make decisions in real-time, we are always adapting our responses, creating unexpected solutions. It’s a nightmare. We have already had to use unusual resources, such as opening a hospital in a sports pavilion in the city."

When the pandemic started, COVID-19 patients were placed in one infirmary on the 7th floor of the hospital. They never believed that the patients might need more space and take over other services like surgery, orthopedics, and urology, but this has happened. Throughout the whole hospital, various sections have been transformed into intermediate care units. Just one year ago the hospital had eight intensive care beds, now it has 26.

Melo doesn't know how long the hospital and its staff can withstand this level of pressure. It has recruited dozens of nurses and assistants, but there are no more doctors available in the country. Germany is sending reinforcements, but the clinical director does not yet know if this hospital will receive any foreign doctors.

One of the difficulties of integrating foreign medical staff into an already functioning hospital is their different methods of working. It is a solution, but not an easy one.

Euronews has requested information and an interview with the Portuguese Health Ministry to discuss the pressures faced by hospitals and the help from foreign parties, but received no reply at time of publishing.