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Cuts to ICU beds and lack of governmental coordination has left Europe unready for COVID-19

A lack of coordination between European countries regarding strategy and containment measures, as well as a shortage of intensive care beds, has left Europe woefully underprepared to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s the view of the President of the European Society of Anaesthesiology, Professor Kai Zacharowski.

The COVID-19 crisis is sweeping through Europe and the world, and anaesthesiologists are a large part of the teams battling the pandemic.

Prof Zacharowski said: “Governments in Europe, including the UK, have not prepared together for the unbelievable stretch on our health services being caused by this pandemic. We have not been able to organise ourselves in a way to have everything that we need, such as enough ventilators to be able to treat large numbers of patients in intensive care at the same time.”

He added: “We cannot stop the virus, all we can do is try to stretch out the peak of cases that need intensive care, so that we will be able to treat as many seriously ill patients as possible. Unfortunately, as the experience in Italy is showing, there are going to be times when very difficult decisions have to be made about who gets treatment and who does not, based on the likelihood of survival.”

The German anaesthetist’s views come as the UK goes into ‘lock down’, with members of the public being urged to avoid non essential travel and contact.

The UK Government is also desperately trying to secure more bed capacity and ventilators – with shortages looming large.

Prof Zacharowski said: “For the last decade across Europe we have been cutting down on hospital beds, including intensive care beds. And now we are realising that we don’t have enough. If we had arranged and distributed equipment at the right time, countries might have been able to avoid the situation in Italy. But now, there has been a rush to order equipment such as ventilators, which companies are struggling to provide due to interruption in supply of parts from China.”

ESA Immediate Past President Stefan De Hert said: “According to the unpublished data provided by our Italian colleagues the mean age of all COVID-19 patients is 70 years, and one of the major risk factors for admission to intensive care is obesity.

“Although it is mostly more serious in older patients, patients less than 50 years old without underlying conditions seem to constitute one in every five of the COVID-19 ICU patients. Finally, infected women seem to develop less symptoms than men, and also children seem to experience the infection without important clinical problems. These data are quite similar to what we have learned from the experiences of our Chinese colleagues.”

See Prof Zacharowski’s interview with the BBC.

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