Significant hidden health costs lie behind the overloading of intensive care units (ICU), according to a recent Swiss study.
The study, done by Switzerland’s National COVID-19 Science Task Force, calculated that the number of non-Covid patients in ICU has more than halved since the beginning of the second wave of infections in Switzerland. “Decline in attendance of ICUs by ‘usual’ patients, and inability to admit all Covid-19 patients due to local saturation may have long-lasting consequences on the health of the population”, wrote the authors of the report.
The second wave has meant that an estimated 19,121 patients who should have been admitted to ICU since October have not been due to postponed operations and treatments, mainly cardiovascular procedures and surgeries.
In addition, an estimated 1,194 Covid-19 patients who would have normally been transferred to ICU appear to have missed out on a place because of overloading. Data suggests that either informal triage has taken place or that some patients were not hospitalised in an ICU at their own request. This hypothesis is supported by figures showing that the percentage of Covid-19 patients in ICU has dropped from 22% (1st wave) to 10% (2nd wave), despite a rising patient death ratio and a slights rise in average patient age.
ICU overload might also reflect progress in treatments for severe Covid-19 patients, such as the steroid dexamethasone. With more critical patients surviving, more ICU places are remaining occupied for longer.
According to the report’s authors, ICUs in Switzerland are not expected to return to a normal situation before 10 February 2021 at the earliest.
Task Force report (in English)