COVID-19: German Doctors' Naked Protest Over PPE Shortages 

Ute Eppinger

May 01, 2020

We're used to hearing how well Germany has handled COVID-19 through widespread testing and other measures. However, Germany has also experienced PPE shortages in practices, hospitals, and care homes.

To draw attention to this, German GPs launched an online campaign in which they pose naked in their workplace.

"Nudity shows how vulnerable we are without protection,” says GP Dr Ruben Bernau on the campaign's homepage. His practice still does not have enough protective equipment, because all supplies have been bought up.

"We were inspired by a French medical doctor called Alain Colombé, who showed a picture of himself naked in his practice and described himself as 'cannon fodder'," adds Dr Christian Rechtenwald, who is also a general practitioner. "A picture is worth a thousand words.”

More GPs can register on the website to take part. "We are your general practitioners. To be able to treat you safely we need protective equipment. If we run out, we’ll look like this, they tweeted.

At the beginning of April, Dr Ulrich Weigeldt, head of the German Association of General Practitioners, and Professor Martin Scherer, president of the German College of General Practitioners and Family Physicians (DEGAM) issued a joint statement drawing attention to the importance of PPE for GPs due to their critical role in the German medical system. "Doctors cannot ensure the protection and safety of their patients unless they’re protected themselves," said Prof Scherer.

German GPs Criticise Communication via Talk Shows

The German Association of GPs had stressed several times that practices needed to receive enough PPE. Currently, German workers request sick notes over the phone instead of having to go to the doctors. This special measure is due to end on May 4th.

Addressing the issue at the German Association of GPs' board of directors’ session on April 24th, Dr Weigeldt said: "PPE shortage in practices are even more pressing than our fees.

"By outsourcing testing and treatment of COVID-19 patients we were just about able to cope with the shortage and manage all necessary medical care. But instead of solving the problem . . . and discussing all necessary steps, we are facing a situation in which politicians and talk shows have taken control of the discussions on the subject."


A spokesperson for the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds said that, due to the very special expertise of licensed doctors in health and hygiene, patients could be assured that visiting a general practitioner neither posed a health risk nor a possible infection with the virus. This claim, Dr Weigeldt said, was both cynical and arrogant.

Studies in France and Italy back up the German doctors’ concerns.

Those two countries have reported high disease and death rates especially among GPs. At the beginning of April, the German Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported that 2300 doctors and nurses in Germany had been infected with COVID-19, and the death was reported of a 61-year-old German doctor.


Still Too Few Masks

An online survey by Medscape's German edition on March 24th found 70% of respondents said they weren't properly equipped with enough standard protective equipment and masks. That's in line with results from UK doctors published a day earlier by Medscape UK in which 72% reported that they didn't have supplies of the protective equipment they needed.

In addition, 57% of German respondents said they were afraid of being infected by patients and colleagues, and becoming seriously ill.

In a radio interview, Professor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, council chair of the Wold Medical Association, and a radiologist in Hamburg, Germany, said problems persisted in late April: "Politicians are still not able to provide enough masks."

He said politicians hadn't managed to import enough FFP2 masks or begin production of them in Germany.

All pictures copyright

This article was translated and adapted from Medscape's German edition.


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