Hospitals in Germany have been accused of exploiting the coronavirus crisis in order to secure extra funding.
A senior MP told the Telegraph hospitals had chosen to keep intensive care beds empty rather than treating patients because it was “more lucrative”.
And Germany’s highest-selling newspaper accused hospitals of overstating the risk they could run out of intensive care beds in an attempt to play the system.
Hospitals issued dire warnings in early November that Germany could run out of ICU beds by the end of the month and that the country would experience scenes like those witnessed in Italy during the first wave, when patients had to be turned away.
In fact, Germany’s health system has never come close to being overwhelmed and the country still has 5,000 ICU beds free.
The row centres on an emergency scheme under which hospitals received €560 (£500) a day for every ICU bed they kept free for coronavirus patients.
Unlike in the UK, German hospitals are not directly funded by the government. Healthcare is based on compulsory insurance, and hospitals are paid for each patient they treat. That meant they risked losing income by keeping beds free for coronavirus patients, so the government stepped in.
But Erwin Rüddel, a senior MP from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat party (CDU) and chairman of the German parliament’s health committee, told the Telegraph some hospitals had tried to exploit the scheme
“I think it’s important to compensate hospitals so that they don’t suffer any damage by keeping capacity ready for severe Covid-19 cases, Mr Rüddel said.
“Unfortunately, we noticed in the first wave that some hospitals were deliberately keeping beds empty because vacancy was more lucrative than treating patients. We have learned from this and tailored the compensation more precisely in coordination with the hospitals. So I can’t understand why there are complaints from hospitals again.”
“The repeated warnings of horror scenarios raises an unpleasant suspicion: that the aim was to exert pressure on politicians to renovate clinics with billions of taxpayers’ money,” Bild, Germany’s highest-selling newspaper, wrote in an editorial.
The German Hospital Association denied the accusation and insisted the expected surge in patients had been averted because infections were brought under control.
“The situation in intensive care units was not intentionally overdramatized,” said Gerald Gass, the head of the association,. “Hospitals simply assumed there would be a significantly higher case load.”
The row came as a leading German virologist accused politicians of overplaying the scale of the coronavirus crisis.
“If you look at the numbers, it’s not the enormous catastrophe that it’s currently being portrayed as,” said Prof Hendrik Streeck of Bonn University.
There have been no excess deaths in Germany during the second wave, and current mortality figures are slightly below the average, Prof Streeck said.
On average 2,600 Germans have died a day over the last five years. In October, the most recent month for which data is available, the daily average was 2,527.
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