4 May 2020

ICU beds increase as ministry tries to triple capacity

2:44 pm on 4 May 2020

New Zealand has increased its intensive care bed numbers in response to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital.

Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

New figures from the Ministry of Health show there are 358 ICU beds that are staffed and can take a ventilator.

This compares with about 200 in late March - though the count has fluctuated depending on how ICU capacity is assessed.

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Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

The ministry has been trying to triple its capacity.

"Based on current advice, there will be 552 ICU capable beds" available in July, the ministry told RNZ.

The number of ventilators has risen by almost 100, to 334.

This includes some new machines from among the 397 ordered overseas that are due to arrive in batches over several months.

"New Zealand has enough ICU-capable ventilators on order to equip any current gaps and the additional [ICU] beds planned by August.

The ICU bed and ventilator numbers include some made available by agreement with private hospitals.

New Zealand has a relatively low number of ICU beds per capita among developed countries.

Hospitals had looked at using anaesthetic machines as a backstop if ventilators ran out.

"Based on current demand, those anaesthetic machines are not required," the ministry said.

"If a surge in demand for ventilators was to occur before August, then anaesthetic machines would be used to meet any gaps."

The ministry asked district health boards to survey their ICU bed and ventilator numbers to prepare for any surge in Covid-19 cases.

The survey shows about a fifth of ICU beds and a third of ventilators are in the South Island, which has a little over a fifth of the country's population.

Auckland DHB has the most - 86 intensive care beds, and 71 ventilators; second for beds is Waikato (34), and for ventilators Canterbury (52).

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