Hungary’s underfunded, understaffed hospitals unable to properly care for patients

February 2, 2016


“The institutions do not have to meet the standards currently in force to retain their operating permits” – Former Chief Public Medical Officer Judit Paller

More than half of Hungarians requiring hospitalization are admitted to facilities lacking adequate means for their treatment, according to an internal study performed by the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (ÁNTSZ).

According to the ÁNTSZ study, no hospitals in Hungary satisfy minimum technical requirements stipulated by a 1995 law, even though the law continues to be in force.  Two-thirds of hospital wards do not meet the minimal requirements for inpatient care.  Of 149 departments inspected, 22 satisfied neither public health requirements nor professional requirements. In many cases they even lack sufficient hand-washing and disinfecting facilities, or are missing the necessary means of treatment. According to ÁNTSZ, more than 70 percent of hospitals suffer from a lack of specialists and/or technicians.

A law adopted in 1995 sets forth minimum conditions whose absence amounts to endangerment of patients. writes that  the agency responsible for ensuring that Hungarian hospitals are safe stopped inspecting the criteria set forth by law after it concluded in 2012 that not a single hospital satisfied all the minimum conditions.  Instead of enforcing the law, ÁNTSZ called for the law to be modified.  In 2012 former Chief Public Medical Officer Judit Paller told an online publication specializing in the medical field that ÁNTSZ had stopped checking whether the conditions were met while experts continued working on the law, and that “no one should be surprised that the institutions retain their operating permits despite (failing to meet) standards currently in force.”

This is how it happened that out of 100 hospital wards, 32 do not meet the public health-care conditions, writes

“The walls are moldy, there is no clean linen, and they are working with materials whose sterility has expired. Only one in five emergency wards have the means to provide proper treatment,” writes the left-wing daily.

According to former Chief Medical Officer Ferenc Falus, the public health service is no longer able to guarantee proper care and the state has stopped inspecting its own hospitals.  Falus says the last time ÁNTSZ closed down a hospital was in 2009, when a children’s hospital in Kalocsa was failing to ensure proper care.

Malpractice suits mounting

Tamás Simon, a lawyer, says the time it takes courts to rule on malpractice cases will radically shortened if it can be demonstrated that hospitals lack the equipment and personnel necessary to properly care for patients, and that it won’t be hard for the courts to tell who is responsible for performing services without meeting conditions prescribed by the law.

For this reason, he believes that insurance companies will be quick to react to news that ÁNTSZ stopped inspecting hospitals several years ago because hospital liability insurance policies constitute a large part of their portfolio.

Malpractice lawyer László Ábrahám says courts routinely turn a blind eye to the fact that Hungary’s hospitals frequently fail to transfer patients to facilities having the necessary means for their proper care and treatment. He cites a number of cases when patients suffered serious physical harm due to inadequate hospital conditions. In one, surgeons operated on a patient with multiple fractures despite not having enough screws.  When the time came to remove the screws from his leg, one screw broke off.  Since then the patient cannot use his leg normally, limps and suffers from continuous pain.

Ábrahám believes that the lack of specialists is responsible for many emergency ward-related problems. He cites the example of a pregnant woman who complained of stomach pains and had to wait three hours for an obstetrician after hospital doctors diagnosed an upset stomach.  When the obstetrician showed up, he immediately performed a C-section, by which time it was too late to save the woman’s life.  The woman’s 75-year-old parents reportedly returned from Germany to raise the child.  Over the course of the malpractice suit the court awarded HUF 6 million (USD 21,000) but dismissed criminal charges.

Ábrahám says the incidence of malpractice is even higher in the case of hospital births, and that incompetent obstetricians often harm patients by failing to summon specialists in a timely manner.