Hospital for Bulgaria’s children: a dream that will come true or a nightmare in the making?
For over four decades, Bulgaria has failed to complete its Children Hospital, a specialised facility reserved for young patients. Now, as the project finally gets a green light from the authorities, parents launch protests against the way the new medical facility will be constructed. Read the article about the controversial hospital by Kristiyan Yulzari, student from the English Language High School “Geo Milev” in Ruse.
Bulgaria is the only country in the European Union without a specialised children’s hospital that has all the necessary medical departments for children’s healthcare. In the end of 2018, after years of inaction and many open letters to the authorities sent by civic organisations, the Bulgarian government finally restarted the project that was launched in the 1970s. The construction plan for the facility, however, raises fears among members of the civil society because it uses the 40-year old concrete framework of the building. There are fears about the structural integrity of the construction site, as well as the potential of the hospital to cater for the needs of young patients parents, doctors and NGOs worry.
The Ministry of Health established a working group and ordered an inspection of the existing building in the yard of the Alexandrovska Hospital in central Sofia. According to the results of the check, no structural malfunctions were discovered. The Chamber of Architects in Bulgaria, however, disputed the statement and submitted a complaint in court, asking for a further independent examination. The claim was denied because such an action would delay construction.
After the announcement that the building project will be restarted, an Initiative Committee named “For real children’s hospital“ was created by civic activists, raising questions that are still pending an answer. By taking the decision to build a children’s hospital on an abandoned construction site, we agree to create the facility envisaged by doctors and architects more than 40 years ago,“ the committee said.
sCOOL Media asked the Ministry of Health to comment on these concerns a month ago, but did not receive an answer. A press release from the Ministry made it clear that on 2 April a contract was signed for building a national children’s hospital with the company, DZZD “Children’s Health”. The deal is for 77, 8 million leva (VAT excluded). This decision angered many activists who asked for Health Minister Kiril Ananiev’s resignation and protested against the fact that the contract was signed in a non-transparent way during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. The protesters call for a halt on the current procedure, demolition of the existing construction and for a new public procurement to be launched.
Mariya Brestnichka is one of the founders of the initiative “For real children’s hospital“. She said they have asked questions about the suitability of the building several times but have not got an answer. “The open letter which we sent to the country authorities gathered more than 11 500 signatories, but only when we got out and protested, we received an invitation for a meeting.“ According to her, if everything goes on like it is now, millions will be spent from the country’s budget for a hospital that makes a compromise with the well being of its future patients- the Bulgarian children.
Brestnichka explained that due to the insufficient space for all necessary medical departments under the current project, some key facilities would be missing, such as paediatric orthopaedics, paediatric gynaecology and radiation therapy. This means that a lot of parents and their children will be forced to travel from hospital to hospital – just as they do at present. Sketches of the future Children’s Hospital show that the rooms would not be single and they will not have separate bathrooms. Furthermore, there is no emergency power supply envisaged, which is extremely important during a potential electric breakdown or natural disaster. „We are one step away from wasting 95 million for a hospital from the past,” says Mariya Brestnichka.
Building a modern and hi-tech hospital requires a modern mindset. In developed countries attention is paid not only to technological solutions but also to the interaction between different medical departments and the psycho-social needs of both the doctors and patients. Until now, even basic medical requirements have not been followed, such as the height of the operating theatre. In the existing building, all rooms are 3.05 meters high. According to modern building standards, the rooms must be at least 3.30 meters high, but are recommended to be at least 3.50 meters of height.
Moreover, the need analysis have been skipped altogether, and it is not clear how many beds each department will receive.
Activists are asking why the existing 11th-floor construction is not being demolished and built again. According to the Zoning plan of Sofia, the area of the abandoned site does not foresee allowing buildings over five floors high. If the authorities start changing the Zoning plan, this can take approximately two years. Another option is choosing a new place for a building, but this is also a long and tough process. From a medical viewpoint, the current location is perfect because of the closeness to the biggest Sofian hospitals – Alexandrovska, Pirogov, St. Ivan Rilski, MMA, St. Ekaterina and “Maichin don“/“Mothers’ Home“.
The activists from „For real children’s hospital“ believes the best way to build a children’s hospital is by analysing the needs of both the doctors and the children. „We can’t build something for someone without asking them what they think or feel about it. No one knows better what a child needs than the child itself”, concludes Mariya Brestichka.
Yet, there is one more big problem about the future hospital, and it is not related to the poorly constructed frame or the bad planning of the rooms. It is the lack of professional skilled doctors of working age. According to National Statistics Institute data, in Sofia, there are 298 paediatricians in total, and most of them are above working age. This is one more aspect which must be immediately resolved by the Bulgarian authorities. It is possible to have a high-technology Children’s hospital, but no doctors who work in it.
How do civil activists imagine the future Children’s hospital?
- A multifunctional building with high-technology medical equipment and the best paediatricians;
- Located in a park area;
- Giving mental support to parents and children;
- Separate rooms with a bed for a parent;
- Zone for playing and studying;
- Aviation ground for emergency cases;
- Huge parking area;