In general, the Swiss health system has some of the highest numbers of health workers in Europe. In response to COVID-19, the cantons and hospitals put out calls for volunteers with an education/background in nursing or medicine (including medical students) in order to increase or maintain the availability of health workers. Public and private hospitals made personnel available to help the cantons. Paradoxically, some doctors and other healthcare professionals did not have enough work due to the social distancing restrictions and a ban on non-urgent medical procedures. Some (cantonal) hospitals and clinics have introduced short-time work.
In hospitals that were experiencing a massive increase in work as a result of COVID-19 illnesses, provisions concerning working hours and rest periods were suspended for as long as the extraordinary situation required. Temporary or financial compensation had tobe granted. Employers remain responsible for protecting the health of their employees and must ensure in particular that they are granted adequate rest periods.
The Federal Council announced on March 20 to make up to 850,000 days of civil defence service available to the cantons until the end of June 2020. Civil defence services consist of male adults (between 20 and 40) who can be mandated to carry out public services in emergency situations. Civil defence units can carry out various tasks, such as supporting health and social care institutions, for example by assisting in the care of the elderly, distributing meals or providing transport services. Civil defence units can also carry out civil engineering work and provide support in the form of logistics and management. This includes setting up and operating reception desks at hospitals, supporting crisis teams and operating hotlines. The cantons remain responsible for the deployment of civil defence units and assign the specific tasks. Intercantonal assignments are possible, for example, in regions that cannot meet current needs with their own resources.
On March 30, about 1000 military personnel were deployed in the healthcare sector. On April 16, the army released 300-400 persons of the medical corps who were on standby because the number of requests for assistance from the cantons was relatively low. Nevertheless, health services continued to have a sufficient number of army personnel at their disposal.
On November 4, 2020 the Federal Council decided in principle to renew the assistance service of the army, in order to support the cantons in coping with the increasing number of hospitalizations and COVID-19 patients in intensive care. It will include a maximum of 2,500 members of the army who can assist hospitals with care or patient transport. The members of the army will be deployed if the cantons request it and the conditions for subsidiarity are met. For this, it should be shown that the civilian resources are not sufficient.
Sources and links:
• Health System in Transition (HiT) Review: Switzerland, Chapter 4 https://www.hspm.org/countries/switzerland25062016/livinghit.aspx?Section=4.2%20Human%20resources&Type=Section
• Federal Council Media Release on March 20: https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/en/home/das-bag/aktuell/medienmitteilungen.msg-id-78513.html
• On the deployment of military personnel: https://www.nzz.ch/schweiz/coronavirus-in-der-schweiz-die-neusten-entwicklungen-ld.1542664?reduced=true
• Ordinance on Measures to Combat the Coronavirus (COVID-19): https://www.admin.ch/opc/en/classified-compilation/20200744/index.html#a10a
• Coronavirus: Armee entlässt Teile der Sanitätstruppen mit Bereitschaftsauflagen: https://www.admin.ch/gov/de/start/dokumentation/medienmitteilungen/bundesrat.msg-id-78792.html
• Coronavirus: Federal Council decides renewed deployment of the army in support of the public health system: https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/de/home/das-bag/aktuell/medienmitteilungen.msg-id-80971.html