Too slow, too late: The government is reacting to the disastrous situation in child health care. What to think of this and today’s PR stunt in a children’s hospital – a classifying comment.
When I recently went to the pharmacy to buy pain suppositories for my two-year-old daughter, my trusted pharmacist, laying the pack on the counter, demanded a kind of canonization: “You were lucky, that was our last pack. And we won’t get any more for a while.”
I could hardly believe my ears. Admittedly, we rarely need medication for our little one. But everyday suppositories, the kind of aspirin for small children, are no longer available? These are the moments when parents start to worry.
After that, we followed the news about the health care of children all the more eagerly. As a journalist, you try to keep your emotions out of the equation and not let yourself be infected by a certain exaggeration of the danger – which you get conveyed on some television channels in particular. But even if we are very sober, we have all been asking ourselves for weeks: How could this have happened? How did Germany get to a point where the situation in children’s hospitals is so difficult and medicines are so scarce? And above all: what is the government doing about it?
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) visited a children’s hospital today. Show presence that you care – press conference included. His core statement after the tour of the Berlin Charité children’s clinic, in which the Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) also took part: The level is world class, but: “There is not enough space, there are not enough people.” Financing is not sufficient, as it is paid via the flat rate per case. Potzblitz: This is definitely a completely new finding that local doctors have never openly expressed.
Seriously, what impression should the electorate get here? Except to be unsettled that such a visit is needed at the end of 2022 to find out and to take action. It has also been known for a long time that Germany “is one of the few large countries that does not have a special children’s clinic”. In countries like Canada, the USA, but also in neighboring European countries, this has long been the norm.
Today’s visit to the Charité joins the list of government projects to improve the state of health care for children, which are characterized by activism. Eight billion euros were released just before Christmas, which will certainly not do any harm.
But the structures are the problem, not just the funds. Where is, for example, a digitization offensive that frees people in the healthcare system from bureaucratic burdens and gives them more time to work with people? Anyone who experiences the paperwork in clinics as a patient is no longer surprised at anything.
Above all, some of the plans of the Federal Minister of Health contain significant risks: Lauterbach wants manufacturers of cheap, patent-free medicines – so-called generics – to bring production back to Europe and Germany. If this bet doesn’t work, drug prices could rise without preventing shortages.
Even in the best-case scenario, it will be a long time before we have fewer supply problems as a result of these measures. Lauterbach can neither be blamed for the misery alone. All of his ideas are still going in the wrong direction, not at all. But for someone who knows the matter so well, he has seemingly neglected this topic behind Corona.
Regardless of the details of what will happen in early 2023, politicians – and that means all parties – should urgently learn three lessons from this difficult situation:
First, our country needs to be better prepared for what may happen but has not yet happened. The shortage of fever juices and other medicines was already foreseeable in the summer – but nothing happened. In management jargon, crap that happens without anyone expecting to see it coming is called “unknown unknowns” or “black swans”. When something like this happens, managers show their strength, who can improvise and come up with good ideas. And it is completely understandable that not everything goes perfectly.
But we’re not talking about that here. Neither the pandemic nor the gas crisis and certainly not this bottleneck in the care of children were “black swans”. Those responsible should have known that something like this would happen. Again and again we citizens encounter a government that is completely unprepared for the unforeseeable and then has no plan – that has to get better.
Second, our healthcare system provides incentives to save at the wrong end. The Minister of Health said: “We have gone too far with economization.” The price played the only role, the availability of medicines played too little a role. That was known, why didn’t he act immediately when he took office? An example: The production of masks was brought back to Germany when it became apparent in 2020 that we didn’t have enough. And now the hospitals have to order masks in Asia again because they are a few cents cheaper there and the tender conditions demand it. And production in this country is at a standstill. Crazy.
And thirdly, Germany needs a change in mentality. Our country must become more child-friendly. According to a survey, three quarters of mothers and fathers do not think that our country is exactly that. Around 90 percent say that family and educational work is not sufficiently recognized and that political decisions should address the needs of families even more than before. Among 30-49 year olds, the approval rate is close to 100 percent. Not all of them can be wrong, and they are not. As a reminder, which segment of the population has suffered the most during the pandemic? Those who are not yet eligible to vote.
Politicians cannot bring about this change in mentality alone, it is a task for society. And we can all help each other elsewhere too, which Franziska Giffey emphasized today: Anyone who calls 112 without it being a matter of life and death is endangering human life. Anyone who burdens doctors and hospitals where it is not necessary harms the system.