The Coronavirus Helpline: the Phone is Ringing Non-Stop

Bratislava’s Regional Public Health Authority helpline is operating 24 hours a day. Practically from the very start of the pandemic, students from the Faculty of Medicine at Comenius University have been answering calls there alongside medical students studying at Czech universities.

24. 04. 2020 13.06 hod.
By: CU Public Relations Office

From 8.30 AM to 4 PM two people man the helpline in turns. A third team member works on the helpline that announces the COVID-19 test results. After 4 PM one of the team takes the phone and information home to do a night shift. In addition, the students consult with each other – including with those not on shift – should a complicated situation arise, such as the case of a patient who was serving a sentence who was suspected of having been infected. 

“I didn’t think about whether to help or not. It was a totally automatic decision,” said Šimon Smoter,who is a medical student in the fifth year of studies. He is managing to meet the demands of study despite also volunteering on the helpline. ”Since I have been employed at the Institute of Anatomy at the Faculty of Medicine since my third year, I have been engaged in online learning. Every week I prepare a lecture for students about individual organ systems, which at this time were supposed to be dealt with during autopsies,” says Šimon, who after studying hopes to become a surgeon.

How do they manage to deal with running the helpline? All sorts of people call. Most of them are fine, but some are aggressive and swear or are threatening. Others call who want to discuss the current situation or who wish to give advice themselves to how to handle it. ”When this happens, we have to finish the call as soon as possible. There could be another ten people waiting to get through who need our services more,” says Šimon, who adds that during the day the phone is basically ringing non-stop. Most calls can be dealt with within a few minutes. However, sometimes there are calls that can take half an hour and which may require the involvement of a doctor, the police, or another institution.  Those who call ask about the latest measures and about the possibility to get tested.

Some members of the public are critical of the introduced measures, the inadequate level of testing, and the long wait for results.  “Many really do not seem to be aware what a great sacrifice healthcare workers are undertaking at this time. The Slovak healthcare system is able to manage this situation,” says Šimon, who is confident the pandemic will be overcome without major difficulty.  According to him, Slovaks have taken a rational and responsible approach, and it is thanks to this that they can handle the situation well and hold their heads high.