Health ministry failed to share warning about IC bed shortage: NOS

Intensive care units were at risk of being overwhelmed in the early weeks. Photo:

Hospital chiefs have said failure by the health ministry to share an early warning about a lack of IC beds had hindered preparations to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The concept memo dated February 9 2020, has been released by the health ministry under freedom of information legislation. In it, public health institute RIVM said IC capacity would not be be enough in the face of the estimated demands on care.

‘We have some 37,000 hospital beds in the Netherlands, including 1,208 operational IC beds. This capacity is insufficient,’ the memo stated.

The RIVM says the memo was sent to the health ministry whose responsibility it is to inform the relevant parties. But this, says NOS, did not happen.

Hospital chiefs now say an early heads up from the health ministry would have prompted them to upscale the number of IC beds sooner.

Diederik Gommers, head of the Dutch intensive care association at the time, said the memo was not discussed in the Outbreak Management Team meeting, also attended by the RIVM, later in February.

‘If any of this had come out then I would have acted sooner. I only did so on March 8 when I had a phone call from the European IC association,’ Gommers told broadcaster NOS.

Which desk?

‘The big question is on which desk at the RIVM or the ministry the formal progress of this memo got halted and why,’ said Bart Berden who, as chairman of the regional acute care Noord Holland/Flevoland, was closely involved in the handling of the crisis at the time.

‘The safety regions and regional health boards should have been told so they could have involved partners, such as the regional hospitals, in the preparations in time,’ he said.

The health ministry, headed by Hugo de Jonge at the time, did not want to comment on why the ministry failed to share the information or what had happened to the memo.

‘We see no reason to trace the route of this specific memo because it may be assumed it was one of the scenarios under discussion at the time,’ a health ministry spokesman told the broadcaster.

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