Intensive Care Units at Limit Due to Staff Shortages

The network of intensive care units is facing the threat of total breakdown according to senior doctors.

Severe demand combined with staff shortages is overwhelming this critical aspect of the healthcare system, according to the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine.

The pressure bearing down on the system is such that those in potential life-or-death situations are increasingly at risk.

It is currently common for life-saving operations to be delayed, and overall it seems evident to many experts that increased funding and attention is required immediately.

Dr Carl Waldmann, the dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, suggested that capacity has never been more tested than at present.

“Intensive care is at its limits in terms of capacity and struggles to maintain adequate staffing levels. It is important that bed occupancy rates do not exceed 85% in order to ensure there is capacity for emergencies. The reality is that many units are quickly reaching 100% capacity whenever there is excessive hospital activity.”

The difficulty is underlined by the experience of the Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS trust, with the trust having reported last week that it was completely bereft of intensive care beds at the two hospitals in the region.

“The critical care units have been working under considerable and sustained pressure. This is as a direct consequence of both the high number of patients requiring critical care support, and the intensity of each patient’s needs. This is in excess of the established number of level 3 [intensive care] equivalent beds on both hospital sites,” the trust reported in a letter addressed to its nurses.

Several other authoritative figures in the healthcare industry have also expressed their discontent regarding the current situation.

“In order to care for acutely unwell patients, surgery is being postponed because of lack of intensive therapy unit beds. The combination of inadequate staffing levels in intensive care units together with a shortage of high-dependency beds is having a very real impact on patients, which are needing to have critical surgery such as major abdominal or chest surgery, or neurosurgery, delayed for their own safety,” Dr Liam Brennan, the president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, commented.

There have been further reports from within the NHS of 100% occupancy rates, and clearly the current situation is grave.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, spoke out on the matter, calling on the government to address the chronic situation appropriately.

“Reports that intensive care is at capacity and without adequate staffing should set alarms bells ringing in Downing Street, but instead we have a prime minister utterly lacking in her response to the NHS crisis. The truth is problems are getting worse and more widespread than in previous years with even life-saving cardiac, abdominal or neurosurgery operations being cancelled. Theresa May needs to get a grip of the crisis and explain what action she’s going to take to make sure that hospitals can get in place the number of staff they need to keep patients safe.”

But NHS England suggested that the current difficulties must be seen in context, and that it is unlikely that they would be enduring.

“At this time of year it’s not unusual for specialist intensive care units to become busy, but tracking data on occupancy rates show hospitals have teams in place to ensure the right care is available. This can include moving patients to other hospitals or bringing in extra staff where necessary,” a spokeswoman on behalf of NHS England stated.


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