Last winter, Switzerland argued over a number unlike any other: not the number of new infections in the country, but the number of free intensive care beds. Not only the eternal chaos of numbers caused a dispute, but also the fact that compared to the first pandemic winter, places in intensive care units have decreased. Due to the large number of particularly sick patients with a crown, the intensive care unit quickly turned out to be a bottleneck in the healthcare system.
The Corona measures have long since been abolished. However, there are no places for more intensive therapy for further waves – quite the opposite. “We are looking at fall and winter with great concern,” says Yvonne Ribi, 46, managing director of the Professional Association of Nurses (SBK). The reason: as there is still a shortage of staff, fewer intensive care beds may become available again. “We have signs that the staff situation has deteriorated in all areas of care compared to last year,” says Ribi. It should therefore be assumed that the number of intensive care places will continue to decline.
There is also a political calculation behind the criticism: SBK is putting pressure on the welfare initiative adopted by the people last year to be implemented swiftly. “Now resources are urgently needed to keep existing nursing staff on the job,” Ribi told the cantons.
More and more beds without service
For the Society for Intensive Care Medicine (SGI) to recognize an intensive care bed, the requirements for staff training, minimum equipment, organization and structural situation within the hospital must be met. With 884 certified beds, SGI is now reporting slightly more than last winter. Only: The certificate does not provide any information as to whether the hospital in question has enough staff to occupy the bed.
In fact, Switzerland has an increasing number of certified intensive care beds that cannot be operated. The coordinated medical service of the military (KSD) confirms this to Blick. Currently, there are an average of 85 unoperated intensive care places, in April there were as many as 95. In the summer of last year, there were half of them, on average 42. The KSD does not check whether only the lack of staff is causing the beds not to work or there are other reasons.
“The capacities available next winter are currently difficult to estimate,” said a KSD spokesman. Notes that the load is still high. However, if Corona does indeed re-fill the beds in the intensive care unit in the fall, this is – combined with the continued heavy workload – “likely and possible that there will be a recurrence of a staff shortage that cannot be compensated for”.
Delivery is guaranteed
In turn, the cantons are already obliged by Covid law to prepare for a possible increase in the number of patients with the crown. The Conference of Health Directors (GDK) also recommends its members to investigate incentive systems to recruit staff for more intensive care.
However, he is relaxed about the next corona wave. “There were always vacancies,” says GDK spokesman Tobias Bär. The number of beds served may vary, but in the past it was always possible to guarantee delivery – also with ad hoc beds. “We assume that healthcare in Switzerland will be able to cover treatment needs with the necessary flexibility in the coming fall and winter.” Furthermore, Bär notes that in an emergency, several beds are more or less of little use if measures are not taken.
Another wave of disease is coming
It is not known how likely Corona will affect intensive care units again. Experts expect a renewed wave of the disease by autumn at the latest. It is also quite possible that there will even be a summer wave.
This is due to the newest sub-type of the omicron variant. The good news is that, based on the current state of knowledge, this variant is probably no more dangerous than the previous one.