Amid war, doctors in Gaza hospital ‘prioritize’ patients most likely to survive

European Hospital, intended for 240 patients, is treating 1,000 as well as hosting displaced Gazans; doctor says healthcare is at ‘complete collapse’

A surgeon operates on a patient in a surgery operating theatre at the Gaza European Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 31, 2023. (AFP)
A surgeon operates on a patient in a surgery operating theatre at the Gaza European Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 31, 2023. (AFP)

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza — Staff and equipment are in such short supply in Gaza’s European Hospital that medical teams are having to make agonizing decisions about whom to accept, doctors said, leaving many patients with severe life-threatening injuries untreated.

The European Hospital, in the southern city of Khan Younis, was intended for only 240 people but is currently treating around 1,000 patients while many displaced people are also sheltering in its corridors, they said.

“Many days we have to prioritize between patients,” plastic surgeon Ahmed El Mokhallalati said, adding this meant focusing on those with a more likely chance of surviving and neglecting those “in a bad situation and (needing) a lot of care.”

“We lost many patients because we were unable to provide the service. At one point, we were not taking any patients with extensive burns because we knew the capacity in the ICU (intensive care unit) can’t deal with this.”

Mokhallalati described performing amputations on patients who had already lost their entire families, adding that he often burst into tears “because we are unable to provide the care (in) the way it is needed.”

Hospitals in Gaza are struggling amid the ongoing war that erupted when Palestinian terror group Hamas launched a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. On October 7 some 3,000 terrorists invaded across the border with Gaza and rampaged murderously through southern areas, slaughtering those they found. The attackers also abducted 253 people who were taken as hostages in Gaza, over half of whom remain captive.

Israel responded with an air, sea and ground military campaign to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza and free the hostages.

An injured woman stretches her leg as she sits outside a tent at a camp housing displaced Palestinians outside the European Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 31, 2023. (AFP)

More than 27,400 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. These figures cannot be independently verified, are believed to include fatalities caused by failed rocket fire by Gaza terror groups, and do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 Hamas gunmen in Gaza, as well as 1,000 terrorists in Israel on October 7.

Most of the enclave’s hospitals have been shut, with some of them directly hit or raided, and those still functioning are under growing pressure as Israeli troops push closer. Israel has provided evidence Hamas uses such facilities as cover for terror purposes and says the group plunders humanitarian aid to take supplies for its fighters, depriving the civilian population.

Thaer Daifallah, a facial surgeon, complained of shortages of even the most basic items.

“I would say healthcare is in complete collapse and it will take years to get it back to normal,” he said.

Nearby hospitals, such as Al-Amal which has been hit several times in recent weeks, may struggle to stay open, Tommaso Della Longa, spokesperson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to even think about the possibility of having Al Amal close in the coming days, but the reality is that if the situation will not change it will be very difficult to continue activities in the hospital,” he told a news briefing in Geneva.

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