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Last year, Poland saw its highest excess mortality rate since World War II. Over 84,000 more people have died in the 53 weeks of 2020 than in the year prior. A number of deaths unprecedented since 1946.

Excess mortality (excess deaths) refers to the number of deaths during a crisis compared to the average number of deaths in previous years. Included in this category are people diagnosed with COVID-19, but also those who have died due to complications from chronic diseases, inefficient health care, difficult access to medical experts, and incorrectly diagnosed cases.

During the pandemic, the Polish health care system had practically collapsed. The number of medical consultations, both with family physicians and specialists, dropped by one million. Hundreds of thousands of people could not be hospitalized. The effort to reorganize hospitals in response to the pandemic resulted in a situation where with 20,000 new daily infections the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 has stabilized. On the other hand, getting medical help in cases other than those related to coronavirus infection is becoming increasingly more difficult.

Data provided by the National Health Fund show just how much more difficult it is to get treatment during the pandemic. Compared to the year before, in April and May of 2020, there were 5 million fewer medical consultations in family healthcare centers. In June, the number dropped by 1.3 million, and in July - 2.6 million. In total, between March and July, the number of consultations fell by more than a fifth.

At the same time, the number of specialist consultations was even lower – it has dropped by as much as 11 million, or one-third. Compared to last year, the number of oncological diagnostics and treatment (DiLO) cards issued in April and May was reduced by 15,000 (one-third).

In the months that followed, the number of issued DiLO cards went slightly up, but it was still lower than last year. A rebound could be observed only in September. - Unfortunately, in October we again recorded a decrease - said the Deputy Minister of Health, Sławomir Gadomski, during the last week’s meeting of the Parliamentary Health Committee.

As the Polish health care system collapses under the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government's flagship medical aid project - the hospital built at the National Stadium - stands empty. With an alleged capacity of 1,200 patients, last week, less than 30 beds were occupied. Why? Because the National Stadium hospital refuses to take in sick people. One of our investigations revealed that the government ignored recommendations of the epidemic advisory team, and decided that only patients with minor symptoms should be admitted to the temporary National Hospital.

How is this possible? - I have no idea what is going on. The National Hospital is perfectly equipped. There is a tomograph for several million zlotys, expensive X-ray machines, an ultrasound machine, modern ventilators, an oxygen system- a doctor tells us.

- The National Hospital is actually a large isolation ward. This is its only practical function - says prof. Krzysztof J. Filipiak, a cardiologist, former vice-rector of the Warsaw Medical University, and chairman of the Council of Medical Sciences.

Having inspected the facility, opposition MPs Dariusz Joński and Michał Szczerba reported that the monthly cost of managing the temporary hospital at the National Stadium amounts to PLN 624,000. The total monthly cost of running the clinic is PLN 21 million.

Asked to comment on the situation, the former director of the National Health Fund and the Agreement party MP, Andrzej Sośnierz, said: “The epidemic has been a magnifying glass for all the weaknesses inherent in our health care system and its management. I was always convinced that the government should appoint a representative who would manage all the matters related to the epidemic and consult the decisions with the heads of different ministries. The Minister of Health, and, even more importantly, the head of the National Health Fund, should have made sure that all clinics and hospitals are functioning as normally as possible. This has been neglected and they were all shut down. If we had mass testing, people would be less afraid, but even this has failed. And so here we are, left with a lot of victims”.

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Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronavirus pandemic for you.

They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.

We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.

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