Spanish medical workers have been awarded compensation for having to work without personal protection equipment (PPE) at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A court in Alicante ruled that the Valencian regional government had failed to protect doctors during the first three months of the health crisis.
The government was told to compensate each of the 153 doctors who filed the claim with up to €49,000.
Doctors who were forced to work without personal protection suits but did not get infected will receive €5,000 each. The compensation increases to €15,000 for doctors who were forced to isolate, and €35,000 for those infected but did not need hospital care.
Medical workers who were hospitalised with coronavirus after lacking proper equipment can receive €49,000, the judge said.
“This ruling is groundbreaking in Spain,” said Dr. Víctor Pedrera, secretary-general of the Doctors’ Union of Valencia CESM-CV.
Pedrera -- a family doctor -- said he himself had fallen ill with COVID-19 shortly in March 2020 and spent two months at home “quite badly off and with no idea of what was being done for treatment.”
Valencia’s government will appeal the ruling, but regional chief Ximo Puig has issued an apology to the medical workers while saying that the initial impact of the pandemic was “completely unexpected.”
Spain, like many countries, struggled to supply its health workers with personal protection suits and face masks during the first months of the pandemic. The national government imposed a strict lockdown for several weeks after declaring a state of emergency in March 2020.
The Alicante court said a lack of personal protection suits had created “a serious safety and health danger for all health workers, especially for doctors due to their direct exposure.”
The ruling said that the region’s health administration failed to meet its duty to protect the doctors “from the moment it knew of the existence of COVID-19 and, in particular after the declaration of a national state of emergency.”
The verdict comes as Spain’s health care system is once more being strained by the new wave of infections driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.
Nearly 25% of critical care units are occupied by COVID-19 patients, primary health care clinics are being pushed to keep attending to the onslaught of new cases.
Despite a low number of deaths and Spain's high vaccination rates, emergency workers are saying that they can barely keep up.
Pedrera said more claims are coming from other groups of doctors in Valencia and he expects even more lawsuits to come from health workers of all types across Spain.
“I am sure that other groups of health workers and doctors from other regions will be encouraged to go forward with their own lawsuits,” Pedrera said. “This will be on the one that opens the door.”