Belgian hospitals: “Let’s hope it doesn’t turn into a war situation”

Starting Wednesday Belgian hospitals will be required to set aside a quarter of all critical care beds for Covid patients.  In all the move increases capacity to 500 critical care beds for Covid patients.  At present 267 patients are receiving critical care.

Eva Van Braeckel is a lung specialist at Ghent University Hospital and she is warning that the situation in hospitals could become even more precarious than during the first corona wave last spring: “We are having to provide Covid and non-Covid care.  It’s not true that all patients can be treated correctly at the right location” she warns.

Under medical care plan Phase 1A that starts Wednesday 500 beds are set aside for critical care for Covid patients as well as 2,000 beds for patients being treated in Covid wards.   At present 300 critical care beds were set aside for Covid.

In recent days some hospitals in Brussels and Antwerp experienced problems and patients had to be transferred.  Eva Van Braeckel, long specialist at Ghent University Hospital UZ, says that fewer than 15% of critical care beds in her hospital are occupied by Covid patients.  There are 20 Covid patients in the hospital, but the UZ intends to open a second Covid ward this week.  

The difference now is that regular care will not be interrupted as happened during the first wave.  Eva Van Braeckel: “There is a lot of concern about the collateral damage, delayed operations and treatments. We notice delayed treatment in one in two patients we are seeing. It’s not to be repeated.  We will have to juggle the two and that won’t be easy.”

Problems have been identified with regard to the availability of nurses and doctors. “The staff have to be able to cope” says Dr Van Braeckel. “Fewer care workers are available because everything has to be combined. If hospitals are inundated, we fear greater problems than last time.  We didn’t experience a war situation last time, let’s hope it doesn’t become one this time.”

Dr Van Braeckel isn’t convinced every single patient will be treated by the right team in the right place.

“The number of people who can deal with a particular problem at each hospital is limited.  People can be retrained, but the quality won’t be the same.”

The lung specialist is also worried about the mental resilience of staff: “Care workers stand ready for every challenge, but the balance is far more precarious.  People are tired and more balls need to be kept in the air.  We’re going to have to make a greater effort with regard to mental health.  We need to work on solidarity, the feeling that as a society we can put our shoulder to the wheel.”

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