COVID-19 : VIDEO | The problem that never ends: saturation of telephone lines in health centers

The sound of ‘communicating’ is more than common when you have to call a health center to make an appointment for any reason. A problem that remains to this day but comes from afar: practically since the pandemic began and telephone health care was prioritized.

The saturation of telephone lines in health centers makes it more than difficult to talk to someone on the other end of the phone.

“I have called for two days, in the morning, in the afternoon and at night, when I suppose they would already be closed and they won’t catch me,” explains a neighbor from the Vallecas neighborhood in Madrid, at the gates of the health center .

“The brutal change that has taken place, from working in person to working electronically, also means a change in infrastructures,” explains María Justicia, head of Primary Care at the Association of Physicians and Higher Education Graduates of Madrid (AMYTS) .

However, these changes have not taken place sufficiently, as Carmen Casas, secretary of the union section of CCOO in Primary Care, also points out. “The necessary infrastructure has not been provided. That is to say, more telephone lines or personnel to attend them ”, he assures.

Long lines just to make an appointment

Another neighbor of the Lavapiés neighborhood in Madrid, at the gates of the health center, describes that “the queue is getting bigger and there are only two people attending.” This is precisely one of the main consequences of line saturation.

This is how Carmen Casas explains it: “The user, given the impossibility of contacting the health center, chooses to go directly. You have to solve your problem, whether it is administrative or not. And, currently, “logically it is not possible to freely enter the health center,” continues María Justicia. All this causes long queues on some occasions.

“We have even detected that there are people who should be isolated at home because it has been positive, but given the impossibility of contacting by phone, they appear at the door of the center,” recalls Carmen Casas.

Increase lines and administrative staff

The autonomous communities have tried, with different strategies, to find a solution to this problem.

The Government of Catalonia has launched a plan to strengthen primary care up to 202 that contemplates incorporating more administrative oriented to the citizen attention in the centers. Asked when it will be launched, sources from the regional executive tell us that “many” of the measures are already underway, but without specifying whether the reference to the administrative centers in the centers is among them.

For its part, Castilla La Mancha has enabled a call center for streamline phone appointments in Primary Care. According to data provided by the autonomous community, health centers in the region received in June 2020 more than 2.7 million calls.

Finally, the Extremaduran Government limits itself to telling us that they have increased administrative and telephone lines by 20%, without specifying the number that this increase implies.

At we have contacted the 17 health ministries of the 17 autonomous communities to find out if they have increased or plan to increase the number of administrative staff and telephone lines in the centers, but at the time of publication of this report Only three have answered us: Extremadura, Castilla La Mancha and Catalonia.