Madrid region inaugurates COVID-19 hospital, unions protest lack of staff

·2 min read
General view of Enfermera Isabel Zendal new hospital during its inauguration, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Madrid

MADRID (Reuters) - The Madrid region on Tuesday inaugurated a 100-million-euro hospital to treat COVID-19 patients but unions say a lack of healthcare workers has raised questions about how it will be staffed.

The cost of the newly built hospital, which doubled from the original announcement, and Spain's shortage of health sector staff have been criticised by local opposition politicians and labour unions.

Arriving at the hospital for the inauguration, regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso was greeted by dozens of protesting healthcare workers with placards reading: "Without staff there is no hospital" and "Primary care abandoned."

"I am outraged at what is being done with public money, with everyone's money," said 58-year old protester Rosa, who declined to give her last name.

The new hospital, named Isabel Zendal in honour of a 19th century nurse who led early vaccination campaigns, was built in just three months near Madrid airport. It will eventually have a capacity of 1,056 beds, including 48 intensive care beds, the regional authority said.

In a first step, a wing with 240 beds, including an intensive care unit, will open. That wing will require 669 staff including nurses, doctors and technicians.

"The hiring will start gradually according to healthcare needs," the Madrid region said in a statement, without elaborating.

With healthcare staff working flat out in a country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus, and with many hospitals already facing staff shortages, labour unions fear the new hospital will only poach crews from other health facilities.

"Nothing will be solved," nursing union SATSE said in a statement, calling the new hospital a vanity project. "Rather, existing units and services will be dismantled as they will have to operate without the professional nurses they need."

Spain on Tuesday reported 8,257 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total up to 1,656,444, - Western Europe's second highest after France. The death toll climbed by 442 to 45,511.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro, Sergio Perez and Marco Trujillo; Additional reporting by Nathan Allen Writing by Inti Landauro; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Angus MacSwan)