Coronavirus: Swedish regions face healthcare staffing challenge over summer

Coronavirus: Swedish regions face healthcare staffing challenge over summer
An intensive care team at Södertälje Hospital south of Stockholm. Photo: Staffan Löwstedt / SvD / TT
The biggest coronavirus healthcare challenge for many Swedish regions this summer is staffing, especially in small regions which can expect an influx of domestic and foreign tourists, the National Board of Health and Welfare has warned.

“Staffing is still the biggest challenge in nearly all regions,” said the board's deputy crisis manager Taha Alexandersson during Tuesday's press briefing on the coronavirus situation.

“The country's healthcare staff have tough months behind them and they have a period of worry ahead of them. They need to take their planned holiday, in some cases it's three or four weeks, but at the same time we need to maintain staffing capacity in the healthcare,” she said.

Part of preparing for this involves coordination within regions and at a national level, but one difficulty is the fact that many key staff have specific knowledge or expertise which mean they can't be easily replaced and may need to be called in to work if the situation changes.

These concerns were related not only to medical staff working directly with patients, but also for example to transport, such as people who operate ambulances or air ambulances. 

“It's clear that we will need to transport patients to their home region if the burden is too much for small regions, due either to an increased spread of infection but also other factors such as accidents or things that can happen during a hot summer,” said Alexandersson.

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The heatwave forecast for Sweden is an added concern, particularly since elderly people are especially vulnerable not only to coronavirus but also to high temperatures.

“The coming heatwave and it's impact on care homes has been a big question over the past few days,” Iréne Nilsson Carlsson, a healthcare advisor at the state agency, told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

But she added that the situation had improved since the devastating heatwave of summer 2018, which caused widespread wildfires and saw 700 deaths more than average over the whole summer period.

“More municipalities have preparedness plans for heatwaves today, compared with in 2018,” said Nilsson Carlsson.

The coronavirus has complicated the situation however, with the Public Health Agency advising against use of fans in common areas due to the potential risk of spreading infection, for example.

“What is most important is that staff have a good overview of how residents are feeling, that they have good routines and involve staff in these,” she said.


The National Board of Health and Welfare's Taha Alexandersson speaking on Tuesday. Photo: Magnus Andersson/TT

On Tuesday, a total of 459 people were being cared for in Sweden's intensive care units, 200 of them due to the coronavirus, the continuation of a downward trend . There were 649 beds available, down from over 1,000 at the peak of the crisis — but capacity could be increased again if there is a renewed demand.

However, there are regional variations, with between 14 and 68 percent spare capacity.

And while the figures for intensive care capacity might be going in the right direction according to the National Board of Health and Welfare, patients who need intensive care treatment for Covid-19 often need to stay at the hospital for a long time, often more than a month. Even after leaving the wards, they are likely to need rehabilitation for a long time.

 


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