June 16, 2021

Have hospitals provided false information about intensive care beds?

“Fake horror figures: the big fraud with the intensive care beds,” was the headline of the Bild newspaper on Friday. The reason for the supposed hit was a report by the Federal Audit Office for the Bundestag’s budget committee that had become known the day before. Among other things, a letter from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) to the Ministry of Health from Jens Spahn (CDU) from January was quoted, according to which hospitals “sometimes reported fewer intensive care treatment places than were actually available”.

These possible false reports were important for the Court of Auditors because at that point in time the clinics only received compensation payments for unoccupied beds if the number of vacant intensive care places in their region was less than a quarter of the capacity. So there was a risk that the houses would make the situation worse than it was in order to continue to collect the free premium.

Inaccurate or deliberately false information could, however, and that is the main thrust of the criticism, have distorted the dimensions of the pandemic. In addition to other parameters, the number of available intensive care beds is used by the RKI and politicians to assess the situation and thus ultimately has an impact on the restrictions in public life. The allegation of the Bild-Zeitung against Spahn and also against Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) reads: “The federal government had known about the manipulation for months. But she said nothing to the citizens. “

This was rejected in Berlin on Friday. The Chancellery announced that it had no knowledge of possible cheating. The Ministry of Health confirmed the existence of the RKI letter, but it was explicitly stated in it that “these fears could not be substantiated with data and analyzes”. In this respect, there was no reliable evidence that the “information on the utilization of intensive care treatment capacities was artificially set too high”. Nevertheless, according to Jens Spahn’s house, the suspicion has been investigated and, for example, the state health ministers, who are responsible for the hospitals, have pointed out possible discrepancies.

Ammunition for the election campaign

It became clear on Friday that the information from the Court of Auditors in the election campaign, which should also revolve around “Corona management”, could develop some explosiveness. Not least because Spahn is already bruised by other allegations in terms of vaccination, testing and masks.

Bundestag Vice President Wolfgang Kubicki of the FDP called on Merkel to clarify “what she knew about the false information about the intensive care beds”. If she was aware of this, she “deliberately” damaged trust and political culture. Even Erwin Rüddel, the chairman of the health committee in the Bundestag and, like Spahn and Merkel, a CDU member, called on the government to “clear up the matter as soon as possible”. The Court of Auditors’ report raises “worrying questions for hospitals”.

For their part, the clinics feel unjustly denounced. The accusation is simply wrong that the houses had reported too high an intensive occupancy rate in order to benefit from compensation payments, said the German Hospital Association: “There are neither concrete indications nor verifiable allegations against a hospital” – not even on the part of the Court of Auditors. It is also wrong to claim that less than 25 percent occupancy is sufficient to maintain the services. Rather, additional parameters would have to be added, such as an incidence of at least 50. Incidentally, the extreme stress on the clinic staff shows how erroneous the idea is that the pandemic “was calculated worse than it actually was”.