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Hungary Kicks Patients Out of Hospitals to Prepare for Covid-19

Covid-19 Evacuations Leave Some Without Access to Proper Health Care

A nurse in protective gear works at the Szent Laszlo Hospital in Budapest, Hungary, during the Covid-19 pandemic, April 27, 2020.  © 2020 Balogh Zoltán/MTI via AP

Like other governments, the Hungarian government anticipated that Covid-19 patients would quickly outnumber available beds in hospitals, and on April 7, ordered that hospitals free up 60 percent of their beds by discharging non-Covid-19 patients as necessary.

The order aimed to free up 36,000 beds, though the exact number of patients affected is unknown because the government has not shared that information. What we do know is that many patients were kicked out but we also don’t know how many of them – some of whom have cancer or other chronic or terminal illnesses and require constant care – ended up in alternative care facilities or were sent home to be cared for by family members.

Athina Nemeth, a hospice and volunteer home care worker in Budapest, told Human Rights Watch that she had cared for 10 patients who were sent home from hospitals abruptly, with no arrangements for care or treatment. She said patients’ families were only notified the day before or on the same day of their loved ones being discharged. One was sent home with an open stomach wound, another with a stoma bag. Other patients lacked diapers or oxygen. Nine of her patients have since died. Athina was able to secure placement in a private rehabilitation clinic for another patient discharged following an amputation. Independent media outlets have reported similar stories.

As of May 3, there were 2,998 recorded cases of Covid-19 in Hungary, with 1,008 infected people in hospital and 340 deaths. We don’t know how many thousands of hospital beds might be empty, while other seriously ill people suffer at home with families unable to care for them properly.

Measures to protect public health should be proportionate and necessary, and the response to medical demands of a pandemic should not deprive people of other essential health care. The Hungarian government should ensure the April 7 order does not create another human rights crisis, including by denying particularly vulnerable patients access to adequate medical care. They should ensure adequate numbers of beds in alternative care facilities and support the home care system with necessary funding. The authorities should also respond to concerns from professionals, patients, and their relatives with full transparency on the fate of patients removed from the care they were receiving.

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