ROME – Doctors in Lombardy, Italy’s region hardest hit by the coronavirus epidemic, have criticized local officials for handling their crisis and said the mistakes they made must be a lesson for everyone.
More than 16,500 people have died from the corona virus in Italy, the largest number of deaths in the world, with Lombardy accounting for 55% of that number. This region also accounts for 39% of the 132,547 confirmed cases in the country.
The huge death toll in Lombardy, the richest region in Italy, has raised eyebrows, with local officials stating that high city densities and a sizable elderly population may have played a role.
However, a letter signed by prominent doctors, including the heads of 11 provincial health authorities in Lombardy, suggested a failure in the local health system contributed to the greatest emergency facing Italy since the Second World War.
Among the failures they stressed was the lack of protective clothing for medical staff – the usual source of anger since the outbreak appeared on February 21.
“This determines the deaths of many colleagues, many diseases among them and the possibility of possible and unintentional contagion, especially in the early stages of the epidemic,” said the letter, posted on the national federation’s website. doctors, surgeons and orthodontists.
There were no direct comments from Lombardy officials.
Medical officials complained of “lack of strategy” in tackling the crisis, lack of good data and limited testing when the virus spread. This “greatly underestimates the number of patients and, to a lesser extent, the number of deaths,” they wrote.
While the neighboring Veneto region was involved in extensive testing at known coronavirus hotspots, Lombardy only tested the arrival of terminally ill patients for hospital treatment, saying they did not have the capacity for wider examinations.
The letter was targeting nursing home management, where hundreds of people had died without being tested. Doctors say in the province of Bergamo alone, 600 of the 6,000 treated pensioners have died.
The Italian health ministry announced on Tuesday that it was sending inspectors to Milan’s largest nursing home, Pio Albergo Trivulzio, where more than 100 people have died since March.
A photograph of nine bodies in the mortuary was published on the front page of the La Repubblica newspaper on Tuesday, with another showing the chapel full of coffins.
Lombardia’s top health official, Giulio Gallera, rejected media allegations that the region had allowed hospitals to send infected patients to local nursing homes without proper protection in an effort to free up much-needed space on the full ward.
“We always act for the good of all people in extraordinary emergencies and we will not let anyone underestimate the serious and hard work we have done,” he said on Facebook. He did not refer to the doctor’s letter.
The Italian health care system is decentralized with regions having control over the money coming into hospitals within their own borders. Lombardy has focused on developing a double-public network of high-performing hospitals, but critics say this is done at the expense of grassroots medical care.
“Public health and medicine on the ground have been ignored and weakened in our region for years,” doctors said.
“It will be difficult to recover from this situation at this time,” he wrote, adding that as a starting point, the region must conduct large-scale testing of health workers.
(Additional reporting by Elvira Pollina and James Mackenzie in Milan; editing by Nick Macfie)
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