Doctors and medical staff from the cities may be sent to work at county hospitals to replace staff who are ill or in quarantine due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Several doctors from the mainland have volunteered to work in Kuressaare Hospital in Saaremaa after a call was put out at the weekend.
In addition to the emergency department, hospitals must have a surgeon, gynecologist, and intensive care physician on duty, said Edward Laane, head of treatment at Kuressaare Hospital, who requested help from Estonian doctors at the weekend.
A separate unit for the treatment of coronavirus patients also has to be manned by doctors, in a situation where three doctors are already in quarantine.
"Today, we are staffed, but this announcement is to make sure the Health Board is more aware of the situation in Kuressaare. If that moment comes that we can't find staff anywhere and we really need to contact the Health Board, they will be more prepared," Laane said.
The situation of the islanders has been partially alleviated by the decision of the Health Board to send coronavirus patients to the mainland for treatment if they need intensive care, which means fewer additional staff members need to be found.
So far, 30 people have said they are willing to come to help at the hospital.
Martin Kadai, head of the emergency department at the Health Board, said some doctors in Saaremaa who did not have personal protective equipment have already come in to contact with patients who tested positive for coronavirus and are now having to isolate themselves.
But Laane said that if a doctor has been exposed to a suspected coronavirus patient, but has no symptoms, they will continue to work.
"We can't quarantine them because we don't have the staff, but if they show any of the symptoms, they have to stay at home," Laane said.
The Health Board has received a request for help from Kuressaare Hospital to find doctors and nurses to assist existing staff, and initially, it is hoped to find the necessary people by negotiating with other hospitals.
Should negotiations fail, the Health Board will have the right, in an emergency, to refer medical staff to a hospital in need. One option is to consider recruiting medical students, but this is not initially planned.
"We will continue to maintain the quality and standard of care as long as possible," Kadai stressed.
It is easier to get emergency doctors at county hospitals that have already networked with some of the bigger hospitals.
Agris Peedu, head of the North Estonian Medical Center (PERH) said: "This cross-use of doctors is working right now, and just half an hour ago I saw a list for the hospital in Hiiumaa which has been submitted to the Police and Border Guard (PPA) specifying which doctors can cross to the island on the ferry."
As some departments of the large hospitals have been closed because elective procedures have been cancelled during the emergency situation, some members of staff are not working.
"If we now need to help in Hiiu, Rapla or Lääne counties, whether we are able to meet the 100 percent request is a separate issue, but we must be able to provide emergency assistance," Peedu said.
"I do not think there should be a problem with Rapla, there is capacity here because it is relatively close to Tallinn in terms of kilometers and we can bring patients straight away, but the biggest risk we have had, and still have, in the current emergency situation is with Hiiumaa hospital," he added.
Initially, the hospital has not applied to PERH to send doctors to the island and negotiations have focused on the use of ambulances or medical transportation. "We are ready to go to Kuressaare or Kärdla, for example, to bring critical patients here," Peedu said.
Priit Eelmäe, head of the Tartu University Hospital, said they do not intend to start sending doctors to other hospitals for the time being. If a request comes from Võru, Põlva or Valga, it will certainly be considered.
Initially, it has been agreed that if the hospital is unable to provide assistance on the spot, patients will be sent to Tartu. South Estonians who have been diagnosed with coronavirus are already being treated in the clinic.
Eelmäe said at the moment there are fewer doctors on sick leave than at the same time a year ago.
However, two doctors at North Estonia Medical Center are suffering from coronavirus, 75 are in quarantine.
Editor: Helen Wright