Spanish doctors win lawsuit over lack of COVID-19 protection

BARCELONA, SPAIN (AP) – Spain’s medical community has scored a victory after a court ordered that a regional government must compensate doctors up to EUR49,000 each for having to work without personal protection suits during the devastating early months of the pandemic.

The lawsuit brought by a doctor’s union is the first of its kind to be won in Spain, whose healthcare system was pushed to the brink when COVID-19 first struck.

“This ruling is groundbreaking in Spain,” Secretary General Dr Víctor Pedrera of the Doctors’ Union of Valencia CESM-CV that filed the suit, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Pedrera, a family doctor, said he got ill with COVID-19 shortly after it hit Spain in March 2020 and spent two months at home “quite badly off and with no idea of what was being done for treatment”.

The court in the eastern province of Alicante ruled late Tuesday that the region of Valencia failed to protect the health of its doctors during the first three months of the pandemic.

The judge said the lack of personal protection suits created “a serious safety and health danger for all health workers, especially for doctors, due to their direct exposure”.

A medical staff member tends to a COVID-19 patient in Spain. PHOTO: AP

The judge ordered compensation ranging from EUR5,000 to EUR49,000 to be paid to the 153 doctors in the suit. Doctors who were forced to work without proper protection but did not get infected nor were forced to isolate will receive EUR5,000.

The compensation increases to EUR15,000 for doctors forced to isolate, EUR35,000 for those infected but did not need hospital care, and to EUR49,000 for doctors who required hospitalisation.

Valencia’s government will appeal the ruling, but Regional Chief Ximo Puig issued an apology to the medical workers while saying that the initial impact of the pandemic was “completely unexpected”.

The ruling said the region’s health administration failed to meet its duty to protect the doctors “from the moment it knew of the existence of COVID-19 and, in particular after the declaration of a national state of emergency”.

Spain’s General Board of Doctors, which represents the regional unions, celebrated the decision in a statement to the AP, while “lamenting that it is not applicable to every doctor”. It said 121 doctors in Spain had lost their lives due to COVID-19.

Spain, like many countries, struggled to supply its health workers with personal protection suits and face masks during the first months of the pandemic.

The national government imposed a strict home confinement for several weeks after declaring a state of emergency in March 2020.

The ruling comes as Spain’s healthcare system is once more being strained by a new wave of infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, even if deaths are now much lower thanks to the country’s high vaccination rate.