Spain’s general medical council has called for the country’s health emergency chief Fernando Simon to be fired, accusing him of “patent and prolonged incompetence” in his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and of undermining the morale of overworked doctors.
Fernando Simón, the head of Spain’s coordination centre for health emergencies and alerts, has been the public face of the government’s response to the coronavirus since March. The 57-year-old epidemiologist, who has worked in Africa and Latin America, has won plaudits for his down-to-earth briefing style, but has also attracted controversy.
It released a statement criticising Simón’s latest comments on the number of infections among health workers. Simon is reported to have said, “Health professionals have learned lessons following the first wave. Managers are putting in place better care circuits in hospitals. And obviously, we’re seeing better behaviour from health workers when it comes to avoiding infection beyond the areas where they work.”
“These discouraging comments don’t just show insensitivity and a lack of understanding, they also demonstrate a clear ignorance of the working conditions we have been subjected to – including a lack of personal protective equipment and diagnostic tests – and of the responsibility and vocation of thousands of colleagues who have been carrying out their medical duties in close collaboration with other health professionals.”
The council pointed out that 72 doctors had died doing their jobs since March, adding that hundreds more were still suffering the aftereffects of the virus, “and thousands more are still fighting to deal with a pandemic the likes of which we have never seen”.
It also accused Simón of ignoring dissenting voices and of failing to put together a committee of independent experts to assess the government’s handling of the pandemic.
However, Prof Rafael Bengoa, a former World Health Organization health systems director who is now the co-director of the Institute for Health and Strategy in Bilbao, defended Simón, reports The Guardian.
“This isn’t the way forward,” he tweeted. “When mistakes are made in our hospitals, we ask, ‘what happened?’ and not ‘whose fault is it?’. That’s how we learn. Simón has my support for the most complicated medical task in decades!”
Jaume Padrós, the president of the Medical College of Catalonia, also spoke out against the general medical council’s call, saying his college did not support the move, adding: “Legitimate criticism doesn’t justify this call for this sacking.”
Simón apologised earlier this month for sexist remarks made during a YouTube interview. Asked whether he preferred “infectious diseases or infectious nurses”, he replied: “I didn’t ask [the nurses] if they were infectious or not; you only see that a few days later.”
His words were denounced as “sexist and degrading” by the General Nursing Council, while the deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, called them “very inappropriate” and unhelpful.
Simón said he was sorry for the way he reacted to “a very silly joke”, adding: “My response was very wrong. I apologise to anyone and any groups who may have been offended. I’m sorry.”
Spain has the second highest number of Covid cases in western Europe, after France.
Full GMC statement (in Spanish)
Full The Guardian report