Urgently Reduce Hospital Burden as severely Ill Virus Patients Surge

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus is further increasing the burden on medical institutions. The government must come up with measures with a sense of urgency to tackle the situation as soon as possible.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, about 500 people nationwide are currently severely ill with the virus. The figure began to soar in November and has reached a level well exceeding the peak of 328 reported at the end of April.

This is probably because this time infections have spread over a wider range of age groups, including middle-aged and elderly people, while the surge in summer was mainly among young people.

The elderly are at a higher risk of becoming severely ill. Of people infected with the virus in the nation, 0.3% of those aged under 60 become severely ill, while the figure is 8.5% among those aged 60 or older. Close attention must be paid to keep the infection from spreading among the elderly.

In addition to infections at home, clusters at medical institutions and nursing homes have been conspicuous. It is important to focus on testing employees and those who use such facilities.

As the number of severely ill patients rises, the burden on front-line medical institutions is increasing.

Intensive care that uses ventilators requires around-the-clock monitoring and thus more staff than normal. This spring, a lack of hospital beds led to delays in transportation by ambulances and deaths of people recuperating at home.

It is vital to establish a system as soon as possible to prevent a situation in which lives that could have been saved are lost.

In some areas, the beds available for severely ill patients are filling up. In Osaka Prefecture, the occupancy rate of hospital beds for severely ill patients exceeds 60%, and Tokyo is also seeing a rise.

If hospital beds are filled, it may hinder the treatment of patients suffering from other critical conditions, such as stroke or myocardial infarction. In regions where the medical system is weak, local medical services could become overwhelmed.

The ministry has said that elderly people infected with the virus should also recuperate at accommodation facilities or at home if doctors determine that it is not necessary for them to be hospitalized.

Although this measure is inevitable in order to ensure that medical services keep functioning, there have been more than a few cases in which a patient’s condition suddenly changes. Local governments are urged to establish a system that offers sufficient support.

Medical institutions that have proactively responded to the pandemic are facing deteriorating business conditions and are seeing a rash of resignations from nurses and other staff.

The government should expedite the implementation of subsidies to key medical institutions, which were earmarked in the supplementary budget, and consider tapping into reserve funds and taking other measures. It is important to stabilize hospital management and support the securing of human resources.

In areas of surging infections, it is necessary to further increase the number of medical institutions that can handle virus patients. The central government should work with prefectural governments and others to encourage cooperation from more hospitals and clinics.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 7, 2020)