Dutch hospitals ditching operations as Covid surges — Analysis

Hospitals in the Netherlands have begun delaying certain operations to free-up ICU beds during a record wave of Covid-19 infections, while an infectious diseases researcher has warned of an impending ‘Code Black’ in the sector.

On Thursday, the country registered around 23,600 new Covid cases. This was a national record. This was the third consecutive day that the number topped 20,000.

Dutch officials in healthcare have announced that a variety of operations including those for heart or cancer patients are being cancelled to increase staff availability for Covid Wards. On Thursday, less than 200 beds were still available in Dutch ICUs. However, Friday statistics show that nearly half of the occupied ICU beds (47.8%) had been used by Covid patient.

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“These patients are those with advanced cancer and should have their operation within 6 weeks. In all other cases, that time limit will not be met. This includes heart patients.”A spokesperson for the National Coordination Center for Patient Distribution, (LCPS) said.

New information is available in the interim calculations by an infectious disease modeller at Wageningen University & Research suggest that a so-called ‘Code Black’ in hospitals is looming. A patient’s safety is in danger. This would mean that many people suffering from life-threatening conditions cannot be admitted to an ICU. However, doctors must decide who they should treat.

Recent estimates by the Dutch Healthcare Authority (NZa) show that up to 200,000 surgeries were delayed due to the urgent need for Covid care. This was in addition to the 400,000 operations performed before the outbreak. The NZa announced on Thursday that nearly a quarter (25%) of the operating rooms in the country were not being used due to rising Covid patient demands and staff absenteeism due to illness.

We don’t know yet what the delay in care will do to public health. In December 2020, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) calculated that an estimated 34,000 to 50,000 ‘healthy life years’ had been lost due to the first Covid-19 wave alone.

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