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Romania has virtually the worst public health system in EU and there is no surprise that it is far from being prepared for tackling the coronavirus infection.

On major issue is that corruption (e.g. among hospital managers) has led to hospitals to not have the minimum equipment (masks, gloves) not even for a week or two.

In this context lots of medical workers got infected and quite a lot decided to quit. The government wants to tackle this issue by either withdrawing their right to practice medicine or expanding their notice period.

Since Romania already has a significant medical staff deficit, the second option is more likely. Currently the law mentions a 20 working days period notice (~ 1 month), but the government is considering 60 working days (~ 3 months). Based on some epidemic spreading simulations this will cover the worst period of the epidemics. This means de facto forcing the medical staff to face the infection without proper equipment.

Working without proper equipment means a much higher chance of getting infected, infecting colleagues and patients.

There was a lot of debate over this issue and I am wondering if such measures are compatible with EU laws or the emergency sate can simply override some EU laws that have priority over national laws.

Question: Can an EU country government force its medical doctors work with SARS-CoV2 infected patients without the proper equipment?

Note: Some equipment was indeed received very recently, a few weeks after the first coronavirus case was officially confirmed in Romania.

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    I believe that some EU governments can, using emergency/wartime legislation. People can be drafted to become military medics in a crisis, which might also have situations of insufficient supply (which bullets thrown in). – o.m. Apr 4 at 7:37
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    I'm seriously curious: If a medical worker has quit, not only by notice, but by action (not going to work, etc,) what good does expanding the notice period do? If going to work means an almost 100% chance of getting a potentially fatal disease, then I would quit ... my employer telling me I have to give 60 days notice won't change the fact that I am not going to even show up. – CGCampbell Apr 8 at 20:12
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The EU directives and regulations with respect to "Workplaces, equipment, signs and personal protective equipment" can be found here. The directive that I think is most relevant is Directive 89/656/EEC - use of personal protective equipment.

This directive sets minimum standards for PPE used by workers, and states the obligations that employers have on this matter:

Personal protective equipment must be used when the risks cannot be avoided or sufficiently limited by technical means of collective protection or procedures of work organization.

All personal protective equipment must:

  • be appropriate for the risks involved, without itself leading to any increased risk
  • correspond to existing conditions at the workplace
  • take account of ergonomic requirements and the worker's state of health
  • fit the wearer correctly after any necessary adjustment.

The employer must provide the appropriate equipment free of charge and must ensure that it is in good working order and hygienic condition.

When defining what this directive covers, the following exceptions are noted:

The definition in paragraph 1 excludes:

(a) ordinary working clothes and uniforms not specifically designed to protect the safety and health of the worker;

(b) equipment used by emergency and rescue services;

(c) personal protective equipment worn or used by the military, the police and other public order agencies;

(d) personal protective equipment for means of road transport;

(e) sports equipment;

(f) self-defence or deterrent equipment;

(g) portable devices for detecting and signalling risks and nuisances.

None of these exceptions would seem to cover medical workers except the rather non-specific "emergency and rescue services". I would take that to mean paramedics, ambulance staff, and mountain rescue workers and the like, however it is possible that this clause could be used to exempt general medical workers from this protection.

Specifically in the case of Romania, this directive has been implemented in national law by "Hotărâre privind cerinţele minime de securitate şi sănătate pentru utilizarea de către lucrători a echipamentelor individuale de protecţie la locul de muncă", or "Decision concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace". From my rudimentary translation of the law, this appears to be pretty much word for word a translation of the original directive.

At first glance then, it seems that failing to provide adequate PPE for hospital staff is a breach of the employer's obligations under this EU directive. However, there are a number of exceptions noted in the directive, not to mention exceptions in national law, which could be used to exclude hospital workers from the protection. In addition, a few national governments have not implemented the directive into national law yet. This makes it difficult to give a definitive answer before this is tested in the courts, as a Spanish doctor's union is attempting.

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    We have this discussion in Sweden now. It basically boils down to this: refusing work (as a doctor/nurse) because of unsatisfactory PPE is a broach of the employer's rights of deciding work BUT : this has a poison pill: if someone is forced by the employer to work in his/her capacity as nurse/doctor but without agreed and recommended PPE and then gets SARS means that the official who ordered the work to be done faces a real risk of criminal prosecution. – Stefan Skoglund Apr 7 at 11:22
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    Which means that a politician (in the cases of regional Health services) faces a real risk of getting a conviction/or a fine. – Stefan Skoglund Apr 7 at 11:23

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