SINGAPORE - The surge in Covid-19 cases has placed significant pressure and strain on public hospitals here, with 89 per cent of the 1,650 isolation beds and 67 per cent of intensive care unit (ICU) beds occupied.
There are currently about 200 ICU beds for Covid-19 patients. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday (Oct 20) that 71 are occupied by intubated patients - those who are hooked up to a ventilator to help them breathe.
He added that Covid-19 patients stay an average 15 days in the ICU, but the longest stay can be up to a month.
"There are another 75 (Covid-19 patients) who are not intubated but have been admitted to ICU because they require close monitoring and treatment by ICU-trained healthcare workers to prevent further deterioration," added the minister.
"The hospitals are bracing themselves for sustained heavy patient load and MOH (Ministry of Health) is doing whatever we can to support and bolster the hospitals," said Mr Ong.
"If need be, we will open up more ICU beds, and the next leap will be to 300 beds, but that will be at the expense of further degradation of normal service, and normal medical care."
He said that at certain hospitals, both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients are queueing for hospital beds.
Right now, on a daily basis, MOH is channelling almost three-quarters of the people infected with Covid-19 to the home recovery programme, said Mr Ong.
"As for those who need hospitals, you need further triage to see who needs to stay in hospital, who can actually decant to what we call the Covid-19 treatment facilities (CTFs), where there are medical personnel," he added.
The patients sent to CTFs are "generally healthy but belong to a higher risk group that we need to observe", said the minister.
"But when it comes to ICU, hospitals will only admit those who really need that close observation and need that care by ICU-trained healthcare workers.
"So the ICU numbers, I don't think there is much scope to triage them away and we just have to give them the appropriate medical care that they need."
MOH is beefing up manpower, through redeploying former swabbers as patient care and healthcare assistants. Mr Ong said this will take time, and healthcare workers are stretched.
Unvaccinated seniors are a big worry for Singapore, the minister added. They account for more than two-thirds of the Covid-19 patients in the ICU or those who have died.
To cope with the increase in cases, MOH said in a statement on Wednesday that it has been proactively working with the public, community and private hospitals to set aside more beds for Covid-19 patients.
The ministry is currently operating a total of 4,200 beds in hospitals and CTFs.
To reduce the load, hospital clinical teams have been actively referring more stable patients to CTFs for further monitoring.
MOH said it is also working with community hospitals to operate more CTF-type beds to ensure continuity of care and assist in further recovery and rehabilitation of recovering older Covid-19 patients with at least one other disease.
Meanwhile, the admission waiting time at hospitals has grown longer and hospitals have reduced non-urgent and non-life-threatening care treatments, to alleviate the pressure on public hospital capacity and manpower.
MOH has also mobilised private hospitals to help with Covid-19 cases.