Coronavirus: Germany ‘must delay all non-urgent surgeries to free up medical staff

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Germany must delay all non-urgent surgeries to free up medical staff to treat coronavirus patients, an intensive care expert said today. 

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).

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 anaesthetists. 

Nursing staff in protective equipment care for a coronavirus patient in a hospital in Essen, Germany last week

Nursing staff in protective equipment care for a coronavirus patient in a hospital in Essen, Germany last week 

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. 

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

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

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.

Medical staff take care of a coronavirus patient at the intensive care unit of the University Hospital in Essen last month

Medical staff take care of a coronavirus patient at the intensive care unit of the University Hospital in Essen last month 

 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.

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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