July 31, 2020 / 1:29 PM / 13 days ago

Under pressure, Spanish family doctors battle the coronavirus

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s family doctors are feeling the strain as they increasingly take the place of emergency and intensive-care colleagues on the front lines of the country’s battle against the coronavirus.

A woman has her temperature checked by a health worker before entering a primary care centre in Madrid, Spain, July 24, 2020. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

“I want to be optimistic ... If there’s a second wave we’ll get through it but it will be really tough,” said Dr Luis Martinez, director of the Silvano Health Centre, a public general health facility on the outskirts of Madrid.

“The staff are all tired, exhausted. It’s been an entirely new situation.”

Besides dealing with their usual caseload, general practitioners (GPs) have been tasked with screening thousands of patients for coronavirus and in some case tracking their movements and contacts.

While about 99% of the tests Martinez carries out come back negative, new cases in Madrid are on the rise. Since they slowed to a trickle in June the region logged 225 infections on Thursday, a trend repeated elsewhere in Spain.

The health ministry reported 1,229 new infections on Thursday and 13,391 in the past week, though it says the country is not yet experiencing a second wave.

With just 10 deaths in the past seven days, the epidemic has become far less deadly than during its early April peak, when the daily toll approached 1,000.

But doctors, already swamped, fear the situation could deteriorate.

“We’re all a bit scared,” said Dr Cristina Sanchez, a GP in Murcia who also represents primary care doctors for the CESM medical union. “We simply don’t have enough staff.”

Acknowledging that primary care doctors were playing a more prominent role than hospitals, Spain’s deputy health emergency chief Maria Sierra said last week the sector needed extra support.

However, Sanchez said the government had failed to take concrete measures.

“We’re doing double the work with the same resources ... The situation has been extremely stressful. We feel completely abandoned,” she told Reuters.

Reporting by Elena Rodriguez and Raul Cadenas; Additional reporting and writing by Nathan Allen; Editing by Giles Elgood

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