Federal Ministry of Health
Berlin (dts news agency) – The federal government is apparently not sufficiently prepared for new pandemics and other disasters. As the Ministry of Health reported to “Welt am Sonntag” on request, the goals in setting up the National Health Protection Reserve (NRGS) provided for this purpose were missed.
This was decided in June 2020 by the black-red government. It is intended to ensure that Germany is no longer dependent on overpriced deliveries from abroad in emergencies, for example for masks and medicines. A multi-stage plan was envisaged: in the first step, masks and protective equipment left over from the pandemic should be stockpiled, in the second step the reserve should be stocked with goods such as medicines and medical devices produced by local companies. The amount must therefore be sufficient to supply the health sector for one month.
In the third phase, which was planned for 2023, continuous operation should begin, and from then on production capacities should be available for half a year. But after almost three years, according to the house of Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), the development of the reserve is still in phase one. “For phases two and three, no budget has yet been allocated for further conceptual design and possible procurement,” said a spokesman. So far, 245 million masks have been stored, which were procured at the beginning of the pandemic and can be used until the end of 2023, and in some cases until 2026.
It is surprising that the build-up of the reserve has not progressed any further. The ministry had already spent almost 750 million euros in phase one of the program in 2021, at that time under department head Jens Spahn (CDU). According to research by “Welt am Sonntag”, this emerges from the federal budget. However, the ministry does not want to say whether and what has been stocked so far in addition to protective masks. The spokesman only explained that the reserve had not yet been fully created because the additional money needed was missing: “The Federal Ministry of Health had announced budget funds of 250 million euros for each of the years 2022 and 2023, as well as 50 million euros each for the following years from 2024 onwards .” These funds are intended “for storing goods and maintaining production capacities and new goods production”. However, the Federal Ministry of Finance rejected the release in October 2022. In the home of Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP), responsibility is rejected: the departments are fundamentally free to “set appropriate priorities” in the course of budget preparation. From the Technical Relief Agency, which operates three NRGS warehouses, we can only learn that 42 million euros were made available for the construction of the logistics centers at the beginning of 2021. The Union’s health policy spokesman in the Bundestag, Tino Sorge (CDU), finds it “a sign of poverty that the traffic light is obviously blocking itself again on this issue”. He urgently calls for clarification on what the 750 million euros were spent on. “For Karl Lauterbach, the next pandemic is often just around the corner, but at the same time he cares far too little about the necessary precautions.” The federal government encouraged medium-sized companies to set up domestic production. Now the promised orders did not materialize. “In the next crisis, we will buy the protective equipment from China again,” said Sorge. Kathrin Vogler, health policy spokeswoman for the left faction, considers it “completely negligent to ignore prevention again”. With a view to the cancellation of the FDP-led Ministry of Finance, Vogler said that the chancellor party SPD was constantly being “led through the arena by the smallest coalition partner on the nose ring”. Karsten Klein, FDP chairman in the budget committee, urged restraint. Before funds are made available for the next phase of setting up the health protection reserve, “needs must first be determined” and “alternatives to physical stockpiling must be examined”. Incidentally, the primary responsibility for civil protection does not lie with the federal government, but with the states.