All hospitals offering regular care again, but progress is slow

Over a month after the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care started to fall, all hospitals in the Netherlands have started to resume regular care. But progress is slow. Most hospitals are only offering half of the care they provided before the coronavirus crisis. A quarter only started 25 percent of regular care, NOS reports after surveying hospitals.

The number of coronavirus cases started to fall in mid-April, creating room for regular medical care to resume. Most hospitals started expanding their care provision in late April or early May, reopening their outpatient clinics and starting non-urgent surgeries again. But far from all operation theaters are in use again, and intensive care is still provided outside the ICU in some hospitals. Outpatient clinics are also running at far below full power, according to the broadcaster.

The hospitals are being careful and taking things step by step. The Antonius Hospital in Nieuwegein said that it can't help everyone right away. "This is partly because a lot of attention and capacity is still required for corona care and we need to be able to scale up again quickly if the virus does re-emerge. In addition, we think it is important that our employees have room to recover from the past intensive crisis period," a spokesperson said to NOS. "Also we cannot receive as many people in the hospital at the moment, because of the 1.5 meter measure."

Waiting lists have grown across most specialties in the weeks when non-emergency medical care at a stand still. Hospitals are now giving priority to the patients who need care the most. The Spaarnegasthuis in Haarlem and Hoofddorp called it a "puzzle with interventions and treatments we have to pick up first". Several hospitals expect to run below capacity for at least the rest of the year. 

Hospitals are hard at work transforming themselves to adhere to social distancing measures. Patients are screened for possible Covid-19 symptoms at the entrance, walking routes are being mapped out, patients are spread across the day and across the outpatient clinics, there are fewer seats in the waiting rooms, and plastic screen are being placed. During the crisis, hospitals gained experience with consultations by telephone or video call. This will be used much more in the future, where possible, so that fewer people have to go in to the hospital.

The cessation of regular care, combined with the extra costs for coronavirus related care and adjustments, also meant a blow for hospitals' finances. The exact losses have not been announced, but according to NOS, it looks like tens of millions of euros per hospital - in line with previous estimations from the Dutch association of hospitals NVZ.