Spain’s medical community has scored a victory after a court ordered that a regional government must compensate doctors up to €49,000 (£41,000) each for having to work without personal protective equipment (PPE) during the devastating early months of the pandemic.
The lawsuit brought by a doctor’s union is the first of its kind to be won in Spain, whose health care system was pushed to the brink when Covid-19 first struck.
“This ruling is groundbreaking in Spain,” Dr Víctor Pedrera, secretary general of the Doctors’ Union of Valencia CESM-CV, which filed the suit, said. Pedrera, a family doctor, said he became ill with Covid shortly after it hit Spain in March 2020 and spent two months at home “quite badly off and with no idea of what was being done for treatment”.
The court in the eastern province of Alicante ruled late on Tuesday that the region of Valencia failed to protect the health of its doctors during the first three months of the pandemic. The judge said the lack of PPE created “a serious safety and health danger for all health workers, especially for doctors, due to their direct exposure”.
The judge ordered compensation from €5,000-€49,000 to be paid to the 153 doctors in the suit.
Doctors who were forced to work without proper protection but did not get infected nor were forced to isolate will receive €5,000. The compensation increases to €15,000 for doctors who had to isolate, €35,000 for those infected but who did not need hospital care, and to €49,000 for doctors who required hospitalisation.
Valencia’s government will appeal against the ruling, but the regional president, Ximo Puig, apologised to the medical workers, saying that the initial impact of the pandemic was “completely unexpected”.
The ruling said the region’s health administration failed to meet its duty to protect the doctors “from the moment it knew of the existence of Covid-19 and, in particular after the declaration of a national state of emergency”.
Spain’s General Board of Doctors, which represents the regional unions, celebrated the decision, while lamenting that 121 doctors in Spain had lost their lives from Covid.
Spain, like many countries, struggled to supply its health workers with protective suits and face masks during the first months of the pandemic. The national government imposed a strict home lockdown for several weeks after declaring a state of emergency in March 2020.
The ruling comes as Spain’s health care system is once more being strained by a new wave of infections caused by the Omicron variant, even if deaths are now much lower because of Spain’s high vaccination rate.
Nearly 25% of critical care units are occupied by Covid patients, and emergency workers are saying that they can barely keep up.
Pedrera said more lawsuits were coming from other doctors in Valencia and he expected even more suits from health workers of all types across Spain.