Alarm rises over hospital bed shortage
Country's health system risks being 'stretched to its limits' by covid
As the number of Covid-19 cases in the third wave soars, several people including celebrities are turning to social media in a desperate attempt to find hospital beds for their families and friends.
Such calls for help have raised concerns the country's health system is being stretched to its limits.
One of the alarming voices comes from Boworn Tapla, a football player of Chiang Mai United who tested positive for the virus on April 12. As he waited for a hospital bed, the worst news came: his wife and their two little daughters also contracted the virus.
He called the hospital where he and his family took the Covid-19 tests only to be asked to wait due to long queues. He turned to Instagram to plead for help as his daughter's cough worsened.
It was not until Friday night, four days later, that his wife and their two daughters were admitted to Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health in Bangkok. He was admitted to Navamin 9 Hospital in Nonthaburi yesterday morning thanks to assistance from the management of Chiang Mai United and chairman of Chiang Mai provincial administrative organisation.
The claims of Boworn Tapla seem to contradict the government's message that there are sufficient beds to accommodate Covid-19 patients, as long as they are not picky and demand to be treated at hospitals with five-star services.
Chalerm Harnphanich, president of the Private Hospital Association (PHA), has admitted many Covid-19 patients have to wait for beds because some private hospitals have failed to make arrangements for them.
Test me, quick: Subscribers of Social Security Fund in Bangkok turn up for free Covid-19 tests at the Bangkok Youth Centre in the Din Daeng area. SSF members are required to register online for testing which is limited at 3,000 per day. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
He said some privately-run hospitals do not refer patients to medical facilities outside their network and some are demanding patients pay for treatment and services despite the fact that Covid-19 medical expenses will be paid for by the government.
To cope with the spike in the Covid-19 caseload, the government has ordered authorities to provide 25,000 extra beds nationwide, in addition to hospitals' ordinary capacity, while the Ministry of Public Health is considering allowing Covid-19 patients who live alone to self-treat if medical facilities are overrun.
Under current practice, all Covid-19 patients must be admitted to reduce transmission. This explains why several privately-run hospitals in Bangkok earlier suspended Covid-19 test services due to a shortage of beds to accommodate virus victims.
National Health Security Office (NHSO) secretary-general Jadet Thammathat-Aree said yesterday 700 Covid patients were waiting to be admitted to hospitals.
However, they were not neglected as officers from the NHSO and the Department of Medical Services have been assigned to follow up daily on every case by phone. Meanwhile, Covid patients are advised to contact the NHSO hotline number 1330 or the Department of Medical Services' 1668 when they need help.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has asked the Department of Medical Services to draw up a self-care guidebook for Covid-19 patients at the Friday meeting with his deputy Sathit Pitutecha and senior public officials.
The guidebook is designed for infected patients who may have to self-treat at home if the number of patients remains high. However, this alternative is likely to apply to asymptomatic patients who live alone and will not spread the virus to family members.
However, Mr Anutin said that for the time being all Covid-19 patients must be admitted and makeshift facilities are being set up for infected patients.
He said hospitals are also urged to hook up with hotels to develop "hospitels" (hotels to house patients) to increase beds in ICU to treat those with severe symptoms that may increase over the next two weeks.
As the shortage of beds seems to have hit Bangkok and surrounding provinces, the National Institute for Emergency Medicine and the Erawan Medical Center Bangkok of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration are working together to find beds for all Covid-19 patients, he said. The minister also urged the public to remain calm and be patient.
A spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, said the capital still has beds available for Covid-19 patients but admitted its capacity to send patients to hospitals is limited. The BMA has a total of 9,183 beds for Covid patients and 4,244 are still available, he said. Extra beds have been added to Bang Khun Thian Geriatric Hospital and two field hospitals at Chalerm Phrakiat Bang Bon Stadium and Bangkok Arena.