Prime minister Sophie Wilmès paid a visit to two hospitals on Saturday, in Ath and in Hasselt, and received a very different reception to that she encountered a week ago.
Last week, the prime minister made an official visit to the St-Pierre hospital in Brussels, and was met by a double row of medical staff turning their backs on her arrival, in protest at low salaries, budget cuts and staff shortages, as well as a plan to allow unqualified staff to take on many of the tasks currently performed by nurses.
This week, her reception was more cordial. The reason: in the meantime, the caretaker government has overturned two of its proposed measures – the idea of recruiting untrained staff, and another which would have forced nursing staff to work anywhere they were most in demand.
“I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister talk about the underfunding of hospitals,” said Bruno Lefebvre, mayor of Ath in Walloon Brabant. “It appears that this meeting has made the Prime Minister aware of the shortcomings and needs of front line staff and stressed the existing gaps in health care.”
After the visit to Ath, the prime minister moved on to Hasselt, and the Jessa hospital, where she followed the same path that would be taken by a Covid-19 patient, from admission through to the intensive care unit which has treated 78 patients since the beginning of the crisis.
“She spoke at length with front-line doctors and nurses and listened to them recount their experiences of the past two months,” said a hospital spokesperson.
She also visited other parts of the hospital non related to Covid-19, in an effort to stress her government’s support for all health care workers, including those not directly concerned with the coronavirus pandemic.