Leaked document: Budapest Government Office in a hurry to collect data for COVID-19 mobilization

According to a leaked document the Budapest Government Office only recently began to look at the number of people  who could help in hospitals in the event of a health emergency. For the time being, it seems that those belonging to groups at risk could also be mobilised in such a situation. Hasty requests for information through the government office indicate there might be chaos in the state apparatus.

From this Monday evening to Tuesday morning, practically overnight, at the request of the capital’s government office the health care providers of the Budapest districts had to write down who could help the hospital staff if the crisis worsened. In addition to some personal data of the eligible people,  each institution also had to indicate their qualifications, field of expertise and the type of contract they had.

District service providers typically perform basic and specialist care tasks serving residents; they usually include GPs, specialist clinics, nurses, dentists, etc. According to the leaked letter, it is addressed to the heads of “all independent medical clinics operating in the territory of Budapest” and it asks  them about the professionals (such as nurses, assistants, etc) who can be seconded to different duties.

The document with the header of the Department of Public Health of the Government Office of Budapest,  has not been made public so far and was sent to Átlátszó by a reliable source. We know the document was sent by email on Monday  at 6:45 p.m., according to the wording of the document as a “request”; however, Zsuzsanna Homor, the chief medical officer of the capital who signed the letter, also wrote that the requested data would be sent by no later than ten o’clock the following morning.

Kormányhivatal körlevél eü…. by atlatszo on Scribd

The haste is obviously partly justifiable. In the event of a health emergency, the law provides for the possibility, with a few exceptions, of directing any healthcare worker to where their work is most needed. It is clear from this request for information that government agencies have so far not had up-to-date information on who they could mobilize, although the emergency situation was announced nearly a month ago by a government decree on 11 March.

Our source, who asked for anonymity, knows the healthcare system well and claims that a series of similar requests for data were sent out in recent weeks. In the case of district health services, this is the fourth such instruction  in the last fortnight with a similarly short notice in fifteen days. Another source of ours adds that the centre’s inquiries to the district government offices are also ongoing: asking for “lists of general practitioners, dentists, people needed to set up outpatient clinics”.

To be able to provide the data asked for by similar requests sometimes the data of hundreds of people has to be be collected by a given deadline from institutions that are already overwhelmed by the coronavirus epidemic.

While such information requests typically ask about who on the list belongs to groups considered to be at particular risk, i.e. over 65 years of age or suffering from a chronic illnesses, the letter discussed in this article does not refer to such an aspect at all. There are two possible explanations for this: one is those at risk would be also sent to hospitals, and the other is that the institutions are in such a hurry that they simply forgot about this extra detail in this information request.

This latter explanation erosion seems to be supported by the fact that one of our sources reported

“chaos in the state apparatus, uncoordinated, self-contradictory instructions, data requests”

We asked the Budapest  Government Office to comment on the leaked document and  we are waiting for their answer, though we are not particularly confident in its arrival: we have been waiting in vain for more than a week from the Ministry for Human Capacities to answer our question about the authenticity of an earlier leaked document.

Leaked ministerial instruction raises concerns about medical supplies in Hungarian hospitals

Protective equipment and COVID tests were ordered by the Semmelweis University of Medicine responsible for hospitals in Budapest for € 8.3 million. The procurement was carried out under an accelerated procurement procedure and the winning company was the same as in similar previous public procurements.

Written by Márton Sarkadi Nagy, English translation: Gabriella Horn. Hungarian version of the story is available here.