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Belgian intensive care in distress

As metrics show a decline in the pandemic, a huge workload continues to weigh on hospital staff.

Max HELLEFF

As metrics show a decline in the pandemic, a huge workload continues to weigh on hospital staff.

From our correspondent Max Helleff (Brussels) – A symbolic milestone was exceeded on November 2 in Belgium with the death of 200 people with the coronavirus. This is the highest number of deaths recorded during the second wave of the pandemic to date. This macabre toll remains, however, far from the 321 deaths of April 8. A total of 12,907 people have so far been killed by the disease.

However, the situation is improving somewhat, say virologists and epidemiologists who are pleased with the slight inflection in the hospitalization curve. 6,893 people are being treated in hospital at the moment, a drop of 5%. But enormous pressure continues to be exerted on the intensive care unit where 1,464 patients are treated.

This last figure gives an idea of ​​the tireless work incumbent on hospital staff, but also of the threat that ultimately hangs over access to intensive care. Half of the beds dedicated to heavy treatments are now occupied.

The saturation of hospitals remains fully relevant in Hainaut, Brussels and the province of Liège. Several doctors and hospital directors have come out in the media saying they will soon have no other choice but to decide “who will live and who will die.” The Royal Academy of Medicine reminds the medical profession of the rules in force: intensive care beds should be reserved for patients for whom a positive – or at least acceptable – outcome can be expected. The rule of “first come, first served” or the use of a lottery cannot be applied. The final decision should be made with the ethics committee, and if possible the patient and family.

Notably, the same academy is concerned about the psychological well-being of nurses. One in four is said to be absent today. In the province of Luxembourg, a hundred of them are said to be sick in hospitals of the Vivalia network (Arlon, Bastogne, Marche, Libramont, Virton). The fatigue accumulated during the first wave of the pandemic, to which was added relentless work this summer to make up for lost time in the treatment of other pathologies, weakened the ranks of caregivers. In some hospitals, army doctors and nurses experienced in the war terrain have come to the treatment units to lend a hand.

On November 6, the House voted by a majority vote for a law authorizing nursing and medical students to practice most nursing acts until April 1 in order to relieve front-line staff in hospitals.

New financial support measures have just been decreed by the De Croo government. “We know that people (carers) do not do it for the money, but they deserve it to compensate for their exceptional investment”, ruled the Minister of Health, the Flemish socialist Frank Vandenbroucke. A consumer check of 300 euros is promised to each and every one, a sum deemed immediately insufficient by the unions. A new envelope of 200 million euros has also been made available to compensate for the efforts currently being made in hospitals. It is in addition to the 600 million euros announced in early July to broadly refinance the health care sector in 2021 and 2022.

The De Croo government is thus warding off the emergency by trying to plug years of disinvestment in health care. Today, it is nurses who work in reduced numbers in hospitals. Tomorrow, all the projections converge to confirm that the campaigns will lack general practitioners, the result of the numerus clausus which limits access to the profession. For the past three years, an entrance exam to medical schools has been imposed across the country.

A glimmer of hope looms today with a 35% drop in the number of coronavirus infections. But the medical profession knows that it will not be enough for them to overcome this second wave. There is a lot of talk about these pathologies that have remained untreated due to the saturation of hospitals. The RTBF gave the heartbreaking testimony of a 40-year-old suffering from an incurable disease on Saturday evening. Within months, a subcutaneous “lump” developed into generalized cancer. Overwhelmed, the hospital concerned informed the patient that her case could wait …


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