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Hospitals and intensive care capacities have arguably received more attention from policymakers and the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic than ever before. In many European Union (EU) countries, intensive care wards were heavily stretched, not only in terms of physical infrastructure such as beds and medical equipment (e.g. ventilators), but much more in terms of having specialized health professionals available that could keep these beds operable. Many countries reported a shortage of intensive care capacities for patients with COVID-19, especially during the early stages of the pandemic, but also during subsequent waves.
Intensive care capacity proved critical during the COVID-19 pandemic with many countries observing shortages of beds, medical equipment, and specialized health professionals. Strategies to surge capacities ranged from the postponement of elective treatments, the creation of temporary hospitals, and tapping resources from private hospitals. National and international hospital networks and transfer of critically ill patients proved important as did telemedical solutions and international training programs to maintain the best levels of intensive care. Stronger coordination at the EU level to allocate patients and staff across borders might facilitate better management of high demand in ICU wards. The study also provides key lessons toward better communication and coordination of ICU capacities with cross-border assistance that can be applied to any country or region.
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