Mar 13, 2020

Pressure on the health care system could result in intensive care ‘age limits’ 

Australian doctors are warning that there is a ‘serious risk’ that the country may run out of available intensive care beds due to the coronavirus, which may force doctors to only focus on people with the highest chances of recovery.

This would mean that intensive care units (ICUs) would be primarily focused on younger and otherwise healthier people.

These new warnings stem from the healthcare crisis currently being experienced in Italy, where coronavirus outbreak has killed more than 800 people and infected 12,462 people.

Advice currently being distributed by the Italian College of Anaesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care warns of the difficult moral and ethical decisions facing doctors as COVID-19 continues to overwhelm hospitals.

“It might become necessary to set an age limit on those entering intensive care,” the advice said.

“Resources may have to be used first for those with a higher probability of survival and, secondly, who has the most years of life left, and offer the maximum number of benefits to the majority of people.”

Although hospitals regularly have to make decisions about how to devote their resources to patients with limited chances of recovery, setting a firm age limit on intensive care admission is a decision that would cause a major backlash.

CEO of the Council of the Ageing’s (COTA) Victorian branch, Tina Owens, told HelloCare that although the situation is difficult, age should not be the sole determining factor of whether or not you get a bed in the ICU.

“The concept of an age limit for me is not an ideal way of assessing the criteria for ICU admission, I think they need to rethink how they assess the criteria and it can’t just be based on age,” said Ms Owens.

“My thoughts would be a triage system of some sort that would not be age reliant. People would need to be triaged through a different system that isn’t solely based on the number on your birth certificate.”

Earlier this week, NSW Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kerry Chant estimated that 20 per cent of the population – around 5million Australians – would get coronavirus, which would mean around half a million Australians would need intensive care based upon statistics from Italy.

Unbelievably, Australia currently has around 2,500 ICU beds, which is only enough to cover 0.01 per cent of the population at once.

Meaning that a sudden and rapid outbreak could prove to be disastrous for the Australian healthcare system and people who have been infected.

In a recent article in the UK’s Daily Mail, Australian Professor Paul Komesaroff explained how limited facilities and equipment would impact the treatment of of people in the case of a further outbreak. 

“There is a very serious possibility a sudden increase in people requiring ventilation would overwhelm the system,” said Professor Komesaroff.

“It’s a difficult conversation with no absolutely clear, correct decision.”

Professor Komesaroff said there is no age limit on treatment, but the triage system would inevitably mean older Australians would be turned away.

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  1. That is a scary situation! What will they classify as a certain age? 50+? Probably 70 + right? I wouldn’t like to be in the situation to choose.

  2. Age limiting isn’t the answer, as there are some very robust octogenarians out there who have a much higher chance of surviving than a seriously immune compromised 25 year old. In these circumstances, ICU should run the opposite of the ED…triage everyone & the ones with the best chance of survival get the bed while those unlikely to make it, even with intensive care interventions, are kept comfortable & palliated if necessary. It sounds extreme, but we need to be pragmatic in pandemic situations.

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