At beginning of May, there were no reported staff shortages to manage the COVID-19 outbreak in hospitals, also because of positive epidemiological development. The Ministry of Health ordered hospitals to suspend planned and non-urgent procedures on March 17, 2020 (1). This enabled hospitals to implement measures to limit physical contact of critical staff, to limit physicians’ concurrent working in multiple facilities, and to introduce employee groups that do not get in touch with each other. In general, a redeployment from other specialities to deal with COVID-19 patients did not occur. The suspension of non-urgent procedures was relaxed by an MoH recommendation issued on April 14 (2).
Although there was no official call for medical students volunteers at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, there were about 3 000 students volunteering mostly as nurses, orderlies or at Public Health Authorities call centres providing information, and a further 2000 registered as, ready to start working if needed, by mid-April (3).
Following these volunteering initiatives, the government issued the Resolution ordering medical students in their two final years of study (the 5th and the 6th grade) to be on call and be ready to start working if requested. However, the call requiring medical students to work has not been made and the resolution was cancelled on May 11 (5).
Hospital and public health authorities needs for volunteers were met. The exact conditions differed, some hospitals provided a short training while some required an online course prior to beginning work.
There was a discussion on whether retired physicians should return to work, however, no official statement was issued. Relatively high number of physicians, especially in primary care, are continuing their work even in the senior age (average ages for some specialties are above 55 years).
Regional authorities were responsible for securing childcare for health workers (as well as for other defined critical infrastructure employees) when schools were closed. Generally, a list of designated facilities that provide the day-care was issued shortly after school closure.
On March 15, 2020, the government prohibited all medical workers (physicians, pharmacists, as well as nurses and other staff) from taking regular leave during the state of emergency; this resolution was revoked on April 10, 2020 (4).
During the state of emergency, physicians from third countries (outside the EU) could pursue their job without having passed the Czech specialisation exam (aprobační zkouška). The government planned to extend this exception for another 3 months when the state of emergency is concluded; however, the measure was rejected by the Parliament.
Regarding healthcare workers’ mental health, there are 2 designated hotlines providing psychological support for them.
In early September, as a result of rising infection rates, the Regional Public Health Authorities are facing significant staff shortages. Despite new positions being created over the summer, most of the positions remained unfilled. Health authorities are at their tracing capacity limit (see section 1.4) and an unofficial call has been made by the Chief Public Health Officer for medical students to join tracing efforts. Student unions declared that the number of available medical students available is limited, given that they must pursue their winter semester studies. A Ministry of Interior proposal to bridge this gap would have enabled police investigators to assist public health authorities, but it was not accepted.
(1) Ministry of Health Extraordinary Measures issued on March 16, 2020 (MZDR 12066/2020-1/MIN/KAN) and March 19, 2020 (MZDR 12312/2020-2/MIN/KAN)
(2) Ministry of Health recommendation for healthcare providers, issued on April 14, 2020 https://koronavirus.mzcr.cz/doporuceni-poskytovatelum-zdravotni-pece/
(3) qualified estimate by medical schools’ authorities, mid-April 2020
(4) Czech Republic Government Resolutions no. 216 (issued March 15), no. 278 (issued March 23), and no. 403 (issued April 9)