Coronavirus: German hospitals should delay non-urgent surgeries, says an expert

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Germany’s leading intensive care expert on Tuesday urged hospitals to postpone non-urgent procedures to free up beds and staff to deal with a spike in coronavirus patients.

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in Germany has soared from just over 360 in early October to almost 2,400 currently, as the country battles a second coronavirus wave along with the rest of Europe.

Staff in many hospitals are already working “at the limits of their capacity,” warned Uwe Janssens, president of Germany’s Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI).

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Speaking at a press conference alongside Health Minister Jens Spahn, he said hospitals in areas with high infection numbers “should end normal operations as soon as possible.”

“That means that where it is medically justified, procedures must be halted and postponed” in order to preserve resources and free up badly needed intensive care personnel like anesthetists.

He said Germany for now had enough beds and ventilators available nationwide, but the “key problem” was a potential lack of skilled medical personnel to treat intensive care patients, partly because of chronic understaffing but also because doctors and nurses themselves were having to quarantine at times.

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Germany this week entered a month-long shutdown to help slow the COVID-19 outbreak, with schools, daycare centers and shops staying open while restaurants, bars, leisure and cultural centers have to close.

The country registered another 15,352 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 560,379, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control.

A woman gets a nasal swab at the coronavirus test center at Central Station in Cologne, Germany. (AP)
A woman gets a nasal swab at the coronavirus test center at Central Station in Cologne, Germany. (AP)

Just as the RKI provides daily case numbers, Janssens’ DIVI gives daily updates on the number of COVID-19 patients occupying Germany’s 28,756 intensive care beds.

Only a quarter of the country’s intensive care beds are unoccupied at the moment.

Janssens’ call came as France’s FHF hospital federation said there are plans to transfer COVID-19 patients to Germany for treatment within days as some hospitals creak under the pressure from surging virus cases.

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During the first coronavirus wave in the spring, the German government and federal states ordered hospitals to delay non-emergency procedures and operations, but they have stopped short of issuing such a requirement this time around.

Health Minster Spahn, himself recently recovered from the virus, said the current situation was “serious” but with large regional differences, and that the ultimate decision lay with the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states.

Nevertheless, he said he agreed with Janssens that it was “very, very important” to delay operations when it was medically responsible to do so, adding that the government would help cushion the financial impact on hospitals.

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