MADRID – It’s a bumblebee lesson in the Intensive Care Unit for children at La Paz Hospital in Madrid. All doctors reported sick or resigned on Wednesday, January 17.
The children in the department have been transferred to the hospital. The Intensive Care Unit for children at La Paz University Hospital in Madrid has not been operational since Wednesday, January 17. The forced relocation of Dr. Pedro de la Oliva as head of the service led to “the collective dismissal of all doctors in the child care unit”. The specialists announced this on Wednesday morning during a meeting in front of the entrance to the Children’s Hospital building.
The hospital is a leader in pediatrics in Spain. In total, more than 900 children are admitted to the La Paz pediatric ICU every year. This week eight children were admitted, all of whom have been transferred to another department.
Intimidation in the workplace
The problems with Oliva started in August 2020, when a group of doctors reported harassment in the workplace. The hospital started a four-month investigation and declared the complaint well-founded. That report described, among other things, that the doctor “did not tolerate contradiction from his subordinates” and that “his physical posture was intimidating”. Following the report, Oliva was fired from the hospital in December of the same year. The doctor, who had been inactive for three years, went to court and was vindicated. He therefore took up employment again in February 2023.
Atmosphere of ‘hostility’ and ‘fear’
With his return, as many as seven of the 15 doctors resigned because they could not continue working in this atmosphere of “hostility” and “fear,” as they stated. The situation did not improve. On December 22 last the regional Ministry of Health announced that De la Oliva was fired again to ensure the proper functioning of the children’s ICU. However, just four weeks later, the doctor was again ruled in favour by the judge.
The doctor’s return to the hospital has led to much unrest. Around a hundred doctors, nurses and support staff gathered in front of the main entrance on Wednesday to express their support for the doctors in intensive care.
Concerns among staff
Several professionals from the hospital express their concerns about the situation. “The ICU is an important hub in a hospital. If one link in the chain breaks, the system becomes overloaded and affects the optimal functioning of the rest.” says Antonio Pérez, head of pediatric oncology. He thus expresses the concerns of many others and it shows that many people are victims of the situation. From interns to doctors and other healthcare workers, not to mention the children who need care.
Ministry: “Care for children is guaranteed”
The Ministry of Health says it will “use all legal means available” to resolve the conflict. In addition, the ministry emphasises that the department will not close. Although it confirms that the children who were in the ICU were transferred due to lack of staff. “However, care for the children is guaranteed 24 hours a day,” the ministry said.
Panic among employees about manager’s return
The medical union Amyts, on the other hand, says that “although the children’s ICU is not closed on paper, because there is only one doctor available”, “in practice, the department cannot operate because there is insufficient staff”. Two of the doctors who have resigned and prefer to remain anonymous confirmed by telephone to the Spanish newspaper El País that there are currently “no doctors working” in the ICU. They indicate that the team became ‘nervous’ when the doctor in charge returned to the workplace. “Some have left the department with a panic attack,” they say.
El País has also asked the head of the pediatric ICU for a response. However, he refuses to answer questions and refers to his lawyers.
The president of the Autonomous Region of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, admitted that “people (professionals) have left”, but that the department will not be closed. She also said that “work will continue while this situation (over the harassment allegations, for which legal action has been taken) is resolved.”
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