“It’s the third time in a year that ethical choices will have to be made, but we have no choice.”

Belgian hospitals face a new challenge.  By next Tuesday they need to free up more critical care beds for Covid patients. Some non-urgent medical care including operations will be postponed. Critical care capacity will also have to be increased by 15%.

Starting Tuesday 6 out of every 10 critical care beds will be set aside for Covid patients.  At present the figure is 5 out of 10. 1,200 of Belgium’s 2,000 available critical care beds will then be reserved to treat victims of the pandemic.  In other wards 4,800 beds must be set aside for Covid patients.

It was only on 22 March that Belgium switched to phase 1B that meant half of all critical care beds need to be set aside for Covid patients.  Less than two weeks later more beds are needed and Belgium will move to phase 2A.

“For over a week now 98% of critical care beds have been full” says Magot Cloet of the care network Zorgnet-Icuro. “We expect an increase in Covid patients needing critical care in coming days and will have to postpone regular care”

The authorities have asked hospitals to postpone all non-urgent operations that can be planned at another time.  Urgent and necessary operations and treatments including chemotherapy and dialysis will continue.

“Doctors will have to make the right decision on what is urgent and what can be postponed” says Cloet.  “It’s the third time in a year that ethical choices will have to be made, but we have no choice.”

Hospitals will be obliged to create extra beds.  Frank Vermassen of Ghent University Hospital says: “Beds and equipment are not the problem.  The big issue is finding qualified staff and that’s not something you create at the drop of a hat.”

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