As a society, we are facing a global crisis caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus, a public health threat that originated China and spread across several countries to neighbouring Italy, France and Spain and is now a global pandemic. It is this century’s first crisis deserving of the name.
I’m not a doctor and cannot offer medical advice, but I can, as a healthcare manager at the head of a healthcare group, give my opinion on what is certainly an exceptional situation, one that is putting health organisations and professionals to the test.
While its essential to stay calm and not panic, it is equally important to take preventive measures and use common sense, even social isolation in certain circumstances, because some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness, including older people and people with health problems. And because governments and local authorities are tasked with ensuring that public services continue to operate. And one of those priority services is health care.
The fear of decision-making in some countries has wasted precious time that could perhaps have prevented at least some of the consequences. Public convenience cannot put vulnerable populations, and above all the healthcare system as a whole, at risk. In Spain, the government’s position as of Sunday, 8 March, was centred on a “containment phase”. Everything suddenly changed on Monday, 9 March, and a series of decisions have been made since then, likely motivated by the growing number of cases in Spain.
The Spanish healthcare system is complex. Healthcare is a responsibility of the autonomous communities. But from my point of view, national public health transcends the regional sphere, because the level of movement and circulation in a country as developed as Spain is tremendous. And it is precisely at this point when a government must demonstrate that it can handle a crisis, set an example of responsibility and take the lead to determine, from the state level, the comprehensive policies and actions that are required nation-wide. For too many days now the public has been receiving contradictory messages—some football matches were played behind closed doors while others before a limited crowd, events with large crowds like bullfights were celebrated but only a certain number of fans were allowed to watch a basketball game—in a random, confusing and often contradictory set of measures from national health authorities. Not only is it important that the public listen to the authorities, but public health decisions must be coordinated as well.
Because it’s about prevention, not panic. And, above all, being a step ahead of the illness. And learning from the mistakes (and successes) of others. But we can’t be a step ahead of the virus if we suddenly take three steps sideways and two back. We must move forward in the fight against this crisis together, in the same direction.
An example of this type of decision is the cancellation of Valencia’s Fallas celebrations, which came late for some and for others was a decision not entirely justified by the number of cases in the region.
But I repeat: it’s better to prevent, to bolster support for healthcare professionals and help strengthen the healthcare system, than to regret in a few weeks’ time that we were not brave enough to do what needed to be done. It’s likely that we’ll never know what would have happened if other decisions had been made. But my personal position is clear; when it comes to health and safety, I prefer to be tough and make drastic decisions rather than regret inaction later.
I would like to ask the public for their patience and understanding. We are likely to be facing a tough few weeks ahead, but I’m confident that we’re going to win this battle. Let’s be cautious, follow the instructions from the authorities and shift our thinking from the individual to the risk you could pose by infecting your friends, family and colleagues with a potentially dangerous virus.
And I want to finish this blog post the way I should have started it, by expressing the deep pride I feel for the exceptional efforts of healthcare professionals who, once again, are examples to follow, people who serve as the public’s first line of defense in a crisis as severe as the one we are experiencing. And I would especially like to thank all the professionals at Ribera Salud for their commitment, professionalism and hard work. Everyone is demonstrating a commendable level of professionalism, dedication to service and solidarity among colleagues, and I am extremely proud to lead a team like the one Ribera Salud has in all hospitals.