Permanent scale-up in ICU capacity impossible, expert contends
Scaling up the number of intensive care units on a permanent basis is not feasible, according to the interim president at the healthcare association Nurses & Carers Netherlands (V&VN) Gerton Heyne. In an interview with NOS Radio 1 on Saturday, Heyne suggested that hitting Health Minister Hugo de Jonge's target capacity of 1,700 ICU beds is not necessary, with several hundred fewer beds being needed in reality.
"We expect that, based on demographics and the expected care demand, it is necessary to scale up to 1350 beds," explained Heyne, adding that the issue with upscaling lies in recruitment. "That's because it's difficult to recruit nurses, but also to keep them," he added.
Before the health crisis struck the Netherlands, there were 1,150 intensive care unit placements available across the country in total. Half of these beds were typically taken up by patients with scheduled procedures. To cope with the onslaught of Covid-19 patients, which topped 1,400 in intensive care at one point, most routine healthcare was suspended while the ICU capacity was increased with flexible staffing, acquisition of more ventilators, and bringing back healthcare workers who had recently left the field.
If Heyne's suggested target of 1350 permanent ICU beds were to be met, 300 to 350 new nurses would need to be recruited and trained and trained to take on the job. However, according to Heyne, a scale-up greater than this would only be necessary under emergency circumstances and for up to one month at most, with any further scale-up in the number of ICU beds potentially having a negative impact on the quality of care.
Heyne's comments come as the Netherlands continues to see a steep drop in the number of Covid-19 patients needing ICU care since the pandemic's peak in April, with the figures since that time having fallen by nearly 90 percent by the start of June.
The V&VN and another healthcare association, the NVIC, are set to jointly present their findings to the Minister of Health Hugo de Jonge late next week, according to the public broadcaster.