EXPLAINED: Are there really no free ICU beds in Switzerland?

EXPLAINED: Are there really no free ICU beds in Switzerland?
An intensive care unit in Neuchatel. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
According to media reports, Switzerland’s intensive care units are at full capacity. Are there really no free ICU beds in all of Switzerland?

On Wednesday, November 18th, a number of the world’s leading newspapers reported on the current situation in Switzerland’s intensive care units (ICUs). 

The New York Times, Washington Post and Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung – as well as The Local Switzerland – all reported that the country’s ICUs had hit full capacity. 

The reporting was based on a statement from the Swiss Society for Intensive Care Medicine on Tuesday which stated that the country was using up its capacity for certified ICU beds. 

However, as reported by Swiss news outlet Watson, while the initial capacity has been reached – it is unlikely that anyone admitted to hospital in need of acute care will be turned away – whether or not they are being admitted due to coronavirus. 

The reason for the discrepancy is the difference between ‘certified beds’ and total capacity. While there are no ‘certified beds’ remaining, this number relates to the standard number of ICU beds which existed in the summer – i.e. before the pandemic.  

As reported by the NZZ, many ICUs in hospitals all across the country still have further capacity in case admissions continue to increase. 

How have hospitals increased ICU capacity? 

The majority of cantons still have remaining ICU capacity, however the situation is critical in a handful of cantons – and is getting worse. 

To boost capacity, Swiss hospitals took a number of steps. 

Firstly, Swiss hospitals stopped all non-urgent interventions – including surgeries – which would have required ICU beds. 

In addition, hospitals across the country have added ICU beds. 

Finally, while some hospitals have exceeded their capacity, several patients have been transferred to other cantons for treatment. 

In some cases, patients were even transferred to other linguistic areas in Switzerland – a rare occurrence in normal times – to ensure they received treatment. 

How many beds are available in each canton? 

Generally speaking it is not in the interests of hospitals to keep ICU beds empty at the ready – which is why many hospitals have been able to increase the capacity as demand has gone up.

As reported by Watson, while the number of beds has been boosted significantly, ICU capacity was increased by a larger number of beds in the spring. 

This suggests that more beds may be made available if hospitalisations continue to increase. 

Due to these efforts, Switzerland’s ICU Monitoring authority estimated there were 258 ICU beds free in all of Switzerland as at November 18th. 

Only two cantons – Schwyz and Fribourg – have hit their full capacity, while two others – Solothurn and Aargau – are in a critical range. 

The following chart shows the percentage of beds which are being used in each canton in relation to the current expanded capacity of each canton’s ICUs. 

NOTE: No data is available for Appenzeller Innerrhoden and Obwalden. 


Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.