More COVID-19 patients lead to less attention, availability and access for others in need, German doctors and hospitals have warned.
In view of rising coronavirus case numbers in intensive care units, German doctors and clinics warned on Wednesday of growing supply shortages for regular patients.
"If the infection situation does not ease up in the next few weeks, many clinics will reach the point where they will have to postpone operations not just for a few weeks, but for months," Gernot Gass, chief executive of the German Hospital Association, told the Funke Mediengruppe.
Meanwhile, the Robert Koch Institute recorded 24,884 new infections, with the seven-day incidence dropping slightly to 160.1. Still not enough.
Gass went on to explain that 90% of clinics currently postponed more than 10% of operations, and half of clinics postponed more than 20% of surgeries. In the case of individual procedures, such as hip replacements, an average of 40% are already being canceled, he added.
"The longer the third wave of the pandemic lasts, the more massive the shortages will be for scheduled procedures."
The German Cancer Society also warned of a worsening situation for non-COVID patients.
"If the infection situation continues to worsen, waiting times for schedulable operations will increase significantly in the coming weeks," the society's president, Thomas Seufferlein, told the Funke Media Group. "I don't want to talk about triage, but many clinics now have to prioritize."
With many intensive care beds unavailable in hospitals, ventilators can be scarce. Under time pressure, medical staff must decide who will receive life-saving treatment. This selection process is also known as triage, and while hospitals and doctors fear it could become necessary in Germany, that is not currently the case.
Cancer patients whose condition is medically stable already have to wait two or three weeks longer for their procedure. For some diseases, that could lead to worsening conditions, Seufferlein warned. In any case, such a delay is psychologically stressful for patients who have just been under immense pressure from being diagnosed with cancer.
But some other physicians warned against alarmism. "We are not and have never been been at the edge of our capacities," Thomas Hermann Voshaar, chief physician at the Bethanien Moers pulmonary clinic, told the Bild newspaper.
"The alarmism of the intensive care physicians is irresponsible and disproportionate." It’s not backed by the actual numbers, he said: "Not even a quarter of the 22,000 intensive care beds in Germany are occupied by COVID-19 patients."
mna/sms (dpa, KNA, EPD)