In recent days, emergency services around the country have been responding to a record number of calls. For example the operation centre of the Prague Emergency Medical Service currently responds to around 700 calls a day. According to its spokeswoman and dispatcher Jana Poštová, the recent days have been the hardest since the start of the pandemic:
“People who call us these days are usually really sick. Compared to the past, most of the callers are in a very serious condition. They have low saturation of blood oxygen and you can hear even over the phone that they have problems breathing.”
This is of course reflected in the number of calls paramedics have to deal with. Before the pandemic, emergency services in Central Bohemia responded to a maximum of 350 calls a day. Now, the figure is significantly higher, says crisis manager of the local emergency service, Jakub Vachek:
“At the moment we respond to around 400 or 420 calls on average. Our response time has increased from seven minutes to nine, because in case of Covid-19 patients, the preparation takes longer.”
The time response of ambulances to Covid-19 patients can take even longer, since paramedics have to put on protective gear and decontaminate the ambulance after each such call.
With many hospitals reaching their limits, rescue workers also spend more time negotiating where to take the patient. In many cases, they have to drive longer distances to medical facilities which still have a free capacity.
Pavel Hrdlička is the head of the emergency service of the Pilsen region, which is one of the hardest hit by Covid-19:
“With the growing number of patients with Covid-19, it is increasingly difficult to provide emergency services. So far we have managed, but placing the people in hospitals is becoming more and more difficult and requires cooperation on a regional level.”
All rescuers agree that the situation has been dragging for far too long. Many paramedics have been working over-time, often reaching their limits. For example in the Pilsen region, most of them have already exhausted their overtime hours, says Mr. Hrdlička:
“We have reached the brink of our capacities. According to the labour code, the overtime cannot exceed eight hours a week, and most of us have already reached that.
“The situation has been going on for more than a year now, and many of our employees are at serious risk of the burnout syndrome.”
Unlike hospitals, emergency services cannot use the help of volunteers. While the inoculation of health workers against Covid-19 has slightly improved the situation, many rescue workers say they cannot work under that kind of pressure for much longer.