Code red in Spanish hospitals

by Lorraine Williamson
Spanish hospitals

MADRID – The Spanish Association of Emergency and Emergency Medicine (SEMES) and health unions are warning of serious problems in emergency departments (A&E) in hospitals across Spain. 

These are serious capacity problems in Madrid, Murcia, Baleares, Galicia, Aragon, Asturias, La Rioja and Castilla-La Mancha, among others. Due to capacity problems (lack of space and staff) emergency departments can no longer cope with the influx of patients. Sometimes patients have to wait in corridors for up to 4 days to be helped. 

El Periodico de España bases an article on this on information from scientific associations and health unions. They map out how the situation is experienced in these health services. In some Autonomous Communities, the number of patients has increased by up to 33%. 

La Paz hospital in Madrid 

The largest hospital in Madrid, La Paz, is once again in the spotlight in this regard. “There are no beds available and workspace is minimal,” a spokesperson for the nurses’ union SATSE explained to the newspaper. According to the nurses, “it makes no sense that La Paz is the most advanced hospital in Spain if a patient has to lie on a stretcher for 3 or 4 days or be crammed into a room where the nurses hardly care for him or her because the patient cannot move”. 

Related post: Primary care in Spain in protest against major staff shortages 

Also problems in Infanta Sofia Hospital 

Doctors of the emergency room of the Infanta Sofia hospital in San Sebastián de Los Reyes (Madrid) are on strike. They have been warning for years about the risks associated with the progressive deterioration of their services without being heard. They see the situation in terms of patient safety and the viability of their department as unsustainable. 


So they decided on an indefinite strike. Not long after that they got 6 more contracts out of the 15 needed and went back to work. “Aware of our responsibility towards the population”. Since then, more than two months later, the management of their hospital has done absolutely nothing. The ERs in this centre assure that from January 10, patients will have to wait up to 3 days before they can be treated. The emergency department is unable to meet the huge demand for care, with doctors and nurses now threatening to resume their indefinite strike if there is no immediate action by the government administration to ensure the health and safety of patients and professionals. 

Similar problems all over Spain 

However, the situation of collapse does not only affect the care in Madrid. The Spanish Emergency Aid Association (SEMES) asked the government in November for a state health pact. The association represents all specialists in emergency care and emergency medicine in Spain including doctors, nurses and technicians. It also previously warned of the “potentially devastating impact” of the collapse of primary care. 

Cogesa Expats

Several SEMES Regional Chairs have provided data. They give an idea of the pressure that hospitals all over Spain are facing. In Murcia, hospitals are experiencing a 10% increase in visits. There is no longer room for all patients who need care. 

In the Balearic Islands, the increase in 2022 was 23%. So far in 2023, this is already an increase of 33% compared to the same period last year. According to SEMES, part of that increased pressure is caused by patients with respiratory pathology (flu combined with covid) decompensating for chronic illnesses. 

In Galicia, the scientific association points to A Coruña. Here “records are being broken and the increase is 15% compared to 2022”. Last Monday, there were 45% more patients compared to the monthly data for January 2022. No fewer than 70 patients have no beds. 

In La Rioja, it is an increase of 30% and in Andalucia – so far no image of patients piled up in the corridors, but with the observation rooms continuously full. A 25% increase in Emergency Department visits continues. 

In Aragon, SEMES reports that the main problem here is that the Emergency Department is “still perceived as a warehouse for patients”. On Tuesday, 76 patients were waiting for an emergency room admission. More than half have to wait between 48 and 72 hours for a room. Regional managers of the association attribute it to the “mismanagement” and an increase in the number of patients with respiratory pathology. 

In Oviedo, an “absolute record of patients” was also recorded in the Central University Hospital of Asturias (HUCA) on Monday, January 9, according to SEMES. As causes, the association points to “hospital capacity has been low for years focus on contraction instead of growth; structurally ageing emergency services; poor adaptation to the needs of the current population; lack of professionals -doctors and nurses-, reducing production capacity…”. 

The confluence of circumstances exacerbates the effect 

In the same vein, the CSIF on Wednesday drew attention to a situation that is leading to even more patients coming. “The convergence of the drop in temperature, the high incidence of respiratory viruses, flu and covid, the shortage of staff and the dismantling of primary care has brought emergencies in hospitals across Spain to an extreme situation.” 

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