“Three patients fight for one bed”: Some European countries’ health systems are on the verge of collapse

An official with the World Health Organization warned the states of the possibility of overloading the health system due to the increase in the number of those infected due to the spread of the omicron strain.

In France, Great Britain and Spain, countries that have a strong health system, the situation is already very serious. Postponement of risky operations and lack of beds in intensive care units are just some of the consequences of this wave.

“There are many patients we cannot accept, patients who are not infected and cannot be treated are the collateral damage of this pandemic,” said Dr. Julie Helms, head of the intensive care unit at the University Hospital in Strasbourg.

Two years after the beginning of the pandemic, with the highly contagious omicron strain, it has forced states to reconsider the resilience of the public health system.

Experts believe that the problem is that only a few health systems have built a system flexible enough to cope with a crisis such as the corona virus pandemic. France, Italy and Spain now have a high number of hospitalized patients, similar to last spring when these countries had restrictive measures and quarantine.

The percentage of people hospitalized for coronavirus in Britain as of January 9 is slightly higher than at the beginning of February last year, before the vaccination of the population began. What is different now compared to then, apart from the vaccine, is the end of quarantine.

Patients are in big trouble

Data from the University of Washington predict that in the next two months, more than half of people in 5 countries in Europe will be infected with the omicron strain, including doctors, nurses and hospital technicians.

Almost all the beds in the intensive care unit in France are almost filled with unvaccinated patients. Dr. Helms says that she rejected 12 patients last Tuesday, and ten the next day.

– When three people fight for one bed, we try to take the one who has the greatest need for him and for whom he will be most useful – says the doctor.

The situation is similar in the UK. Omicron causes “cracks” in the health system, although this variant seems to cause a milder clinical picture than other variants.

The government was forced to hire military doctors to help doctors in state hospitals, and a large number of them have been helping for months when vaccinating the population or driving ambulances.

Dr. Leia Ajai said that she recently had a patient whose cancer was not detected in time due to the corona virus.

– Unfortunately, when it was his turn, the cancer had already spread. Now we are dealing with relatively young patients who are in their fifties who, if they came for an examination a year ago, could have a better chance of surviving, and now they are in palliative care wards – says the doctor, reports Euro news.

Nearly 13,000 patients in England were forced to wait on stretchers for more than 12 hours before their beds were vacated, according to data from the National Health Service.

In this country, about 5.9 million people are waiting for cancer screening, scheduled surgery and other interventions. If this situation continues, experts warn that this number could double in the next three years.

“We need to focus on short-term and long-term solutions to improve this situation,” said Dr. Tim Kuksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine.

“A bed is a piece of furniture”

The first wave of the pandemic pushed the Spanish health system to its limits. Hospitals had to improvise by creating intensive care units in operating theaters, gyms and libraries. The public was stunned by the numbers of those who died in nursing homes, and most of them did not even manage to reach the hospitals.

After that, the Spanish government promised not to allow such a situation to happen again. For these purposes, a plan has been made that would enable, in exceptional situations when necessary, to increase the capacities in order to receive all patients, especially in the intensive care units.

– The key is flexibility, to have buildings that can be easily remodeled, staff that is flexible in terms of work, burden sharing between regions if a situation is difficult – says Dr. Martin McKee, professor of public health at the London School of Tropical Medicine.

– The bed is a part of the furniture, what counts is the staff around you – he says.

Dr. Helms says she knows it well. The department where she works has 30 beds, of which 26 are currently occupied, and the chance that this will change due to the spread of omicron strains is unlikely.

In the infectious ward in the same hospital, they are forced to hire doctors from other wards, so patients who do not have a crown and require treatment are in big trouble.

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