Omicron exposes inflexibility of Europe's public hospitals
Jan 16, 2022 1 min, 34 secs
STRASBOURG, France (AP) — A World Health Organization official warned last week of a “closing window of opportunity” for European countries to prevent their health care systems from being overwhelmed as the omicron variant produces near-vertical growth in coronavirus infections.

Two years into the pandemic, with the exceptionally contagious omicron impacting public services of various kinds, the variant’s effect on medical facilities has many reevaluating the resilience of public health systems that are considered essential to providing equal care.

The problem, experts say, is that few health systems built up enough flexibility to handle a crisis like the coronavirus before it emerged, while repeated infection spikes have kept the rest too preoccupied to implement changes during the long emergency.

The French public hospital’s 26 ICU beds are almost all occupied by unvaccinated patients, people ”who refuse care, who refuse the medicine or who demand medicines that have no effectiveness,” Helms said.

Nearly 13,000 patients in England were forced to wait on stretchers more than 12 hours before a hospital bed opened, according to figures released last week from the National Health Service.

“Despite the fact that countries thought they were prepared for a pandemic that might come along, they were not.

Britain’s NHS Confederation, a membership organization for sponsors and providers, says the public health service went into the pandemic with a shortage of 100,000 health workers that has only worsened.

The first wave of the pandemic pushed Spain’s health system to its limit.

The public witnessed, appalled, retirees dying in nursing homes without ever being taken to state hospitals that were already well over capacity.

But critics of government health policy say they’ve warned for years of inadequate hospital staffing, a key driver of the difficulty delivering care in the current wave.

But it has only enough staff to care for the patients in the 26 beds currently occupied, a situation unlikely to change quickly after omicron burns through the region.

In the same hospital’s infectious diseases unit, frantic schedulers are borrowing staff from elsewhere in the facility, even if it means non-COVID-19 patients get less care.

He said Europe is prepared to handle isolated outbreaks as it has in the past, but the pandemic has exposed weakened foundations across entire health systems, even those considered among the world’s best.

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