Philippine Covid-19 patients wait for days to be given hospital beds

Workers at work inside a field hospital ward for Covid-19 patients in Manila on June 24, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - As more and more people in the Philippines fall ill with the coronavirus, the waiting time to move from the emergency room to a ward dedicated for Covid-19 patients is about two to three days, an emergency medicine specialist said on Tuesday (Aug 10).

Dr Pauline Convocar said emergency room (ER) doctors saw a "sustained increase" in Covid-19 infections as early as mid-July, although the ER-to-ward movement, until last week, took only an average of 24 hours.

Describing a situation similar to what happened during the previous surges, Dr Convocar said sick members of families again were arriving in clusters at hospitals, with seniors presenting severe and critical symptoms.

There are also more people now with "younger profiles" being admitted, said Dr Convocar, the immediate past president of the Philippine College of Emergency Medicine.

"It's the same trend," she said in a phone interview.

The waiting time in the emergency department depends on when a patient is discharged from the Covid-19 ward so that it can accommodate another one, she said.

The additional cots and makeshift wards that most hospitals had prepared for the surge are filling up, Dr Convocar said.

"The emergency department carries the burden, being the gateway, the entry point of the hospital," she said.

The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday said 68 per cent of all intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 58 per cent of all Covid-19 ward beds were now occupied.

It said 57 per cent of all isolation beds and 48 per cent of all mechanical ventilators were in use.

Figures from the DOH show that on July 10, about two weeks before it disclosed local cases of the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, 55 per cent of ICU beds were in use along with 46 per cent of isolation beds and 42 per cent of ward beds.

At the start of the "time out" called by the medical community on Aug 4, 2020, 55 per cent of ICU beds, 52 per cent of isolation beds and 55 per cent of ward beds were occupied. In addition, 30 per cent of ventilators were in use.

The DOH said the current positivity rate in the country was 21.9 per cent, meaning one in five people tested was positive for Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. During the height of the March to April surge, the positivity rate peaked at 25 per cent.

During the surge, Metro Manila hospitals were swamped with Covid-19 patients, with long lines forming outside emergency rooms as cases soared to more than 10,000 almost daily for 12 days starting March 29.

The government imposed enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna from March 29 to April 11 to help stop the spread of the virus.

At the time, Mr Robert Mendoza of the Alliance of Health Workers said that 10 to 50 patients were on the waiting lists of emergency rooms in several big hospitals in Metro Manila.

Due to the lack of beds, some patients were referred to hospitals in nearby provinces.

As at Tuesday this week, several big hospitals in Metro Manila, such as St. Luke's Medical Centre, The Medical City, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Adventist Medical Centre, and Medical Centre Manila have already reached their full capacity for Covid-19 patients, according to infectious disease specialist Rontgene Solante.

As Dr Convocar had described, he told the Inquirer that patients had to wait for two to three days in emergency rooms before being transferred to a ward.

Dr Convocar said the situation should not discourage other emergency cases from seeking hospital treatment since a separate admission pathway had been created for them.

She rallied fellow doctors to continue their work and the people to do their share.

"To my colleagues, hang on. To the public, keep practising minimum public health protocols," she said.

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