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Brussels hospitals publish open letter over lack of supplies
Frontline medical staff at nine Brussels hospitals have published an open letter to Belgium's health minister, warning they are in dire need of the masks and other protective equipment needed to do their job.
The hospitals, which are all part of the Iris network, also warned on Thursday that their intensive care units are close to saturation. While only 54% of intensive care beds nationwide are occupied, the situation is much more strained in Brussels.
Brussels' Saint-Pierre hospital, which has been designated the city's reference hospital for treating coronavirus patients, is one of the nine signatories in the open letter. The others are Baron Lambert, Etterbeek-Ixelles, Molière-Longchamp, Joseph Bracops, Brugmann, Queen Fabiola children's hospital, Jules Bordet and Erasmus.
"The search for an efficient and rapid solution to the shortage of masks is essential," they wrote. "The work done so far by the authorities are not successful - and that is an understatement."
"Now is not the time for the health ministry to be asking hospital to fill out forms with all sorts of figures, which become obsolete in a few hours and thus are useless if they are not processed immediately.
"This is not the time for the health ministry to restrict the distribution of stocks of protective equipment and medicines that we know are still available."
Responding to the letter on Thursday, federal health minister Maggie De Block said the supply shortage was an international problem "and not specific to Belgium".
"We are aware that the situation on the ground is sometimes difficult," she said. "The question of the supply and availability of medical devices is crucial, whether it be masks, other types of medical personal protective equipment, respirators, drugs and so on. We know this."
De Block added: "We have created a taskforce, managed by Philippe De Backer, who works tirelessly on inventory management and replenishment. The federal government supports hospitals and regions as much as possible by centralising orders.
"All countries face the same problems. But these obstacles do not weaken our determination. In recent days, we have received millions of surgical masks and FFP2 masks and test equipment. And these quantities will increase even more in the days to come."