Intensive care units are at “a breaking point,” according to a memorandum sent to the Minister of Health from the National University Hospital on August 16. While the healthcare authorities believe the current wave of infections may have reached its peak, it is unlikely that the strain on the hospital will decrease for another two to three weeks.
Various measures have been implemented
According to a memorandum sent to the Minister of Health from Páll Matthíasson, Director of the National University Hospital, on August 16, the state of the hospital’s ICU and emergency room is dire; if the hospital’s most pessimistic forecast becomes a reality, it will be unable to respond to other emergencies that may occur, with staff exhaustion being a “real risk,” well. At the time that the memorandum was composed, 20 hospital employees were quarantining and a further 90 were self-isolating.
To accommodate the strain caused by the current wave of COVID-19 in Iceland, the country’s largest to date, the National University Hospital has implemented various measures. These include transferring patients out of the hospital to other healthcare institutions and calling in staff from summer vacations. The Ministry of Health has also contracted staff from private healthcare institutions in order to ease the strain on public healthcare staff.
Despite these measures, the hospital’s intensive care units are “more than full,” according to the memorandum. The biggest challenge in providing care is a shortage of trained staff, particularly anesthesiologists and intensive care nurses. The strain caused by the pandemic has also led to many elective surgeries being postponed. Not all patients waiting for such operations can wait indefinitely.
A high proportion of foreign tourists in intensive care
The recent increase in tourists arriving in Iceland has also affected the hospital, the memorandum notes: 15% of patients being monitored by the COVID-19 ward are foreign tourists, with 25-40% of patients in the ICU belonging to this group. The state of the ICU is currently the hospital’s biggest challenge, considering that is “that aspect of the hospital’s operations” that will most influence its ability to perform large, exigent elective surgeries.
The memorandum further highlights the recent strain on the hospital’s emergency room, in which those individuals arriving with COVID-like symptoms must be isolated until a diagnosis is at hand. This process greatly slows the transfer of individuals into and between the hospital’s inpatient units. Similarly, owing to the above-mentioned circumstances, patients (mainly those suffering from cardiac problems) are being transferred to inpatient units at a faster rate than normal. Under normal circumstances, these patients would be monitored in the emergency room for a longer period of time.
The memorandum concludes with the following plea: “It is imperative that the authorities implement all of the necessary societal measures in order to reduce the strain on the hospital.”