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Recovery concerns as most ICUs still well above normal capacity

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Dozens of intensive care units are still running well over their normal capacity – in some cases more than double – weeks after the peak of demand, figures seen by HSJ reveal.

It contrasts with the picture painted at some government coronavirus press conferences that there is huge “spare capacity” in critical care and has been throughout the outbreak, with Downing Street charts putting England-wide occupancy at around 20% currently.

The government’s assertions include the additional “surge” capacity which was hurriedly established at the start of the outbreak. But intensive care staff have been frustrated by this being labelled spare capacity, when the number of patients being treated is still well above normal levels.

In addition, the ongoing reliance on keeping surge beds open – with ICUs still spilling over other spaces and calling on staff and equipment from other services – will limit hospitals’ ability to resume normal care, such as planned surgery.

Steve Mathieu, a consultant in intensive care medicine in the south of England, said: “The majority of ICUs will currently be operating at over 100 per cent capacity and typically somewhere around 130-150 per cent, although there is significant regional variation".

“There are uncertainties whether this will now represent the ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future and there is a national need to plan for further potential surges in activity requiring more critical care demand."

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Source: HSJ, 21 May 2020

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