Health care and prevention must not suffer, even in times of the pandemic

An interview with Dr. Thomas Fischbach on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children's health and illness prevention.

In an esanum interview, BVKJ President Dr. Thomas Fischbach explains what federal policy action is needed and warns of long-term health consequences for paediatric patients. The future of paediatricians in private practice in Germany is not good. This is the result of a representative survey by the Professional Association of Paediatricians and Adolescent Health Specialists (Berufsverband der Kinder- und Jugendärzte, BVKJ), in which 1,066 practising physicians participated at the beginning of February 2021.

The hard numbers: More than a third of the respondents see their own economic existence threatened, more than half of the participants are thinking about cutting staff and a full 84% are considering reducing the number of working hours. These are direct consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic: at the present time, the BVKJ is recording a 30-40% drop in the number of patients compared to the same quarter of the previous year - and a correspondingly serious loss of income. Another negative trend in this development: Due to concerns about COVID infection and because there are fewer acute infectious diseases due to protective measures, there is a significant decline in child screening and vaccinations.

esanum: Dr. Fischbach, a representative survey by the BVKJ shows that a majority of paediatricians in Germany fear for their professional future in view of the Corona pandemic. How is the COVID-19 crisis affecting paediatric practices?

Fischbach: We are currently experiencing a 30-40% drop in the number of patients compared to the same quarter last year due to the pandemic. This inevitably leads to an economic imbalance that we cannot cope with without adequate financial compensation (bailout). In the meantime, federal policy has decided on such a bailout as of 01.01.2021, which should now be implemented by the Associations of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians - as formulated by law. Otherwise, we will have to put staff on furlough or even lay them off. Adequate patient care, especially after the pandemic, would be jeopardised.

esanum: In your opinion, what were the most serious findings of the BVKJ survey?

Fischbach: The clear decline in preventive measures for children and vaccinations.

esanum: How could paediatric patients or their parents be persuaded to attend appointments at the doctor's office despite COVID-19?

Fischbach: All colleagues have long since established effective hygiene concepts in their practices and carry out rapid tests on their staff. The risk of infection is probably higher almost everywhere in the country than in our practices.

esanum: What health consequences are to be feared for paediatric patients due to missed visits to paediatric practices?

Fischbach: Missed check-ups and vaccinations are a real health risk for patients. This also applies to missed check-ups for chronically or acutely ill patients. I have already had to experience debilitating diabetes mellitus and severe asthma attacks myself. It is quite clear: Even in times of pandemics, health care and prevention must not suffer in order not to carelessly endanger the health of our children and young people.

esanum: In a letter, you asked Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn for urgent support for paediatric practices. Have you already received any feedback on this from the health policy side?

Fischbach: As of today, the Minister has unfortunately not yet replied.

The survey results of the BVKJ and the descriptions by Dr. Fischbach urgently show why paediatric practices need support from federal politics right now. In addition, parents are called upon to continue to attend medical examinations with their children in order to prevent possible long-term consequences. The health care of an entire generation of patients hangs in the balance.