We may have to send ICU patients abroad says Head of the Emergency Health Care Department

The Head of the Belgian Health Ministry’s Emergency Health Care Department Marcel Van der Auwera told Friday morning’s National Crisis Centre press conference that the situation in the country’s hospitals remains “extremely fragile”. Mr Van Auwera added that there are currently just 82 ICU beds available in the entire country. Sunday’s fire in the Brussels municipality of Anderlecht and the great efforts that had to be made to find ICU beds for those injured highlight the strain the hospitals are currently under. 

In addition to the 82 ICU beds currently still unoccupied there are 4 beds (2 for adults and 2 for children) in specials burns units. Not all hospitals still have ICU beds available, and some patients are having to be transferred to other hospitals, sometimes some distance for their homes. 

"There is an example of someone that was admitted to the Sint-Jan Hospital in the centre of Brussels and was eventually transferred to a hospital in Bruges. Another person went to A&E in Charleroi and was taken to Sankt-Vith”. 

Mr Van der Auwera added that a situation like that in Italy earlier in the pandemic whereby patients had to be transferred to foreign hospitals can’t be ruled out. “Germany is prepared to take patients from Belgium”.

More than a year since the pandemic took hold in Belgium, many people are asking why the number of ICU beds hasn’t been increased. However, “Beds are not the issue, we just don’t have the staff. For more than a year now staff have been asked to excel themselves. For more than 6 months those working on ICU have been working 110% and 130% for the more than month. Asking more of them isn’t an option”. 

Mr Van Der Auwera told the press conference that medical staff are exhausted. Intensive care means intensive care. “To maintain the quality of round the clock care you need three nurses for every ICU bed”. 

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