Coronavirus: Intensive care demand surged at peak of crisis

Medics on a ward

Scotland's intensive care units (ICU) faced a dramatic surge in patient admissions during the initial period of coronavirus lockdown.

An official report on Covid cases requiring intensive care shows demand peaked on 29 March, with 29 patients admitted in a single day.

Admissions remained close to the this level for about one week, to 6 April.

The median age of patients admitted to ICU was 60, with men significantly outnumbering women.

The report by the Scottish Intensive Care Society Audit Group (SICSAG) indicates that, for a period of almost four weeks, intensive care units were operating at above their normal capacity.

More ICU beds

At the peak of demand, normal capacity was exceeded by 46%.

But no patient was turned away. The previous number of 173 ICU beds had been increased rapidly, and currently stands at 585 beds.

The report, published through Public Health Scotland, is the most detailed analysis so far of the 516 admissions to ICU of patients suffering from Covid-19.

Key points from the report include:

  • Men accounted for 71.8% of admissions
  • People living in socially deprived areas had a higher than average rate of admission to ICU
  • Those patients with underlying conditions and those in the oldest age groups were more likely to die
  • For ICU patients where there has been a clear outcome, 38% have died

The overall rate of admission to intensive care has declined sharply since the end of March.

From the daily peak of 29 patients, it had fallen to an average of one per day by the end of May.

Image source, Public Health Scotland

Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith said the "hard work" put in to increase the number of ICU beds ensured there was sufficient capacity to meet demand.

"The plans put in place by local health boards and the Scottish Critical Care Delivery Group to prepare ICUs to deal with the pandemic meant that, even at its peak, ICUs have been operating within the capacity available," he said.

"I would like to thank the exceptional hard work, commitment and on-going dedication to service that has been demonstrated by our NHS staff across Scotland."

'Much to be proud of'

Intensive care bed capacity can now be increased to 700 if required.

Dr Stephen Cole, the president of the Scottish Intensive Care Society, said: "Working with the Scottish government and national procurement, we were able to provide the potential for more than 700 ventilated ICU beds, four times the base capacity across Scotland.

"Scotland has much to be proud of in the way that the pandemic has been managed.

"I have no doubt that the death toll would have been greater without the unwavering support and close working relationship between the government and the clinical community."