President Klaus Iohannis called for urgent health reforms Friday after a fire at Covid-19 hospital in Bucharest tore through wards in the early hours, killing five, “because such things must not happen again.”
More than 100 people were evacuated as firefighters worked to put out the predawn blaze at the Matei Bals hospital. Patients were moved elsewhere, either to other wards or other hospitals, were suffering from medium to serious symptoms of the virus.
The tragedy come just months after a fire a hospital in the northern city of Piatra Neamt left 10 dead.
The Romanian president sent his condolences to the families of the victims and thanked emergency services for putting out the blaze which broke out in a Covid-19 ward at one of the largest hospitals used to treat Covid-19 patients in the country.
Visiting the hospital, the president evoked structural problems in the creaky health system and said he had asked the new health minister to come up with “a reform project for the entire health system.”
„For those who manage the system, I repeat: a profound reform of the public health system is needed, because such things must not happen again ” he said.
Romania’s chronically underfunded health system has been beset by corruption, inefficiency and politicized management. The East European nation spends the least on healthcare in the EU in terms of the percentage of its gross domestic product.
The president, however, also used his message to thank the medical personnel for the „superhuman efforts” made battling the pandemic, working in extremely stressful conditions, he said.
Prosecutors are investigating the cause of the fire and will investigate possible manslaughter as the cause, they said earlier.
Romanian Prime Minister Florin Citu lamented a lack of investment in the health system which he said has resulted in Friday’s deadly fire.
„The shortcomings of the health system have made their presence felt in this tragedy today. Although significant resources have been allocated, 6.1% of the gross domestic product in 2020 alone, only a very small part has been allocated to investments.
The hospital building where the fire started was built in 1953 and had been completely renovated, former manager Adrian Streinu-Cercel said. It was one of the best-funded public hospital in Romania.
“It’s time to understand that we can’t go on like this, we can’t spend 95% of resources only on salaries and bonuses,” the prime minister told Digi24.
Health Minister Vlad Voiculesu said investigators first needed to know the blaze happened.
“The reality is that the state of an overwhelming majority of our hospitals is simply the result of chronic underfunding and opaque acquisitions which led to a long string of improvisations,” he said.