ICU capacity under spotlight with Delta cases on the rise

Source: 1News

The ability of intensive care units to cope with a Delta outbreak is back in the spotlight.

It comes as Intensive care specialists are disagreeing with Health Minister Andrew Little's tally of the total number of ICU beds available.

In the mean time hospitals are preparing as best they can with Northland DHB saying it will take all offers of help if it has to.

For days now, Northlanders have rallied to the call to get vaccinated.

It's music to the ears of local DHB staff, who know Whangārei Hospital will be overwhelmed if Delta takes hold here.

“If we get overwhelmed we may be needing whānau to step up and help with basic things like showering and dressing and changing beds,” Northland DHB chief medical officer, Jennifer Walker, said.

Northland DHB is one of many around the country modifying wards and upskilling staff in preparation for Covid patients.

It's called surge planning and is being implemented by hospitals worldwide.

“If we end up with 200 Covid patients in hospital across Northland, that is clearly going to affect us because we only have 278 beds currently across the regions,” Walker said.

But the society of intensive care specialists is concerned at the number of ICU beds currently available after surveying DHBs nationwide last month.

“Given that it takes about 5.3 nurses to keep an intensive care bed staffed 24/7, that equates to 170 adult intensive care beds,” intensive care specialist Rob Bevan said.

But the health minister says the Government asked DHBs last August how many additional beds could be converted for ICU or high dependency use.

Hospital workers treating a Covid-19 patient in the ICU (file).

The collective response amounted to up to 380 beds at short notice and if it meant compromising planned care, capacity rose to 550.

On Sunday, one doctor on Delta alert in Taranaki was unconvinced by rapid response planning.

"New Zealand runs at full capacity most of the time and there isn't a whole of people out there extra that we can bring in, the concept of surge capacity is wishful thinking rather than a realistic possibility," Dr Campbell White of Taranaki Base Hospital said.

Walker was calling for pragmatism in Northland.

“I think you have to be pragmatic and you have to pull together because Northland will be overwhelmed if we stay at 70 per cent and there will be deaths,” Walker said.