How the hospital beds crisis is affecting medical transports

Unless you’ve been avoiding the news lately, you’ve probably heard that many hospitals around the world are facing serious pressures on bed space. This isn’t just happening in far-flung healthcare systems – it’s a problem in many major cities too. In the UK, ER doctors recently warned that up to 500 people a week may be dying unnecessarily while they wait for NHS A&E treatment, partly due to a lack of beds. In Ireland, where bed numbers are also low, hospitals are being told to brace themselves for “one of the toughest winters in history.” Inevitably, a widespread bed shortage could be a potential problem for anyone who’s considering going overseas for medical treatment. So, if you’re thinking about organising a medical transport for a friend or loved one, what are the potential issues – and what can you do about them?

Hospital bed crisis

Why the shortage?

The reasons are quite complex, but many of them go back to the pandemic. Elective surgery cancellations during COVID created a backlog of patients needing treatment, and many hospitals have struggled to reduce waiting lists as the health services resume normal service. But that’s not the only issue. Others include

  • Global worker shortage
    – many industries are facing a post-pandemic crisis in recruitment
  • Staff illness
    – stress and sickness absence levels have risen markedly since the pandemic began
  • Social care issues
    – some hospitals have been unable to release healthy patients due to a lack of available community care

If, as some predict, renewed COVID cases combine with the return of seasonal flu this winter, the situation may get even tougher in the northern hemisphere into 2023.

How is this affecting repatriations?

Although private hospitals are more insulated against bed shortages, their resources are still finite. And with more patients going private to cut waiting times, they face many of the same pressures. But there’s another, more hidden problem too – and that’s travel insurance. Here at EMS, we’ve been hearing a recurring story from frustrated customers. They’ve been trying to repatriate a loved one. The insurance company has agreed to cover the costs. But the transport keeps being delayed because the insurers say there are no beds available. “We’ll contact you again next week,” they say… only for the pattern to repeat itself. For many people, delays like this can be very stressful and worrying.

How can EMS help?

If you’re thinking about organising a medical transport for a friend of family member, the good news is there’s plenty we can do to help. In fact our whole repatriation strategy has been purpose-built to ensure there’s a bed waiting for patients by the time they arrive at the hospitals. There are two main ways we do this:

Liaise directly – every EMS repatriation is a bed-to-bed service, as standard. This means we start talking to your destination hospital from the moment you give us the go-ahead. The EMS Operations Team will contact the right department, speak to the medics and tell them we’re on our way and that they need to confirm a bed ASAP. Getting a confirmation sooner rather than later is important, because it means your patient won’t be kept waiting in A&E unnecessarily once they arrive at the hospital

Stay in contact – in the current climate, securing a hospital bed sometimes involves more than a single phone call. If space is tight, we keep contacting the hospital to reiterate the importance of the case and make sure the patient’s place is confirmed. During the journey, we update them on our ETA so they can prepare the bed for our arrival

In conclusion…

If we have one piece of advice when it comes to hospital bed bookings, it’s to act sooner rather than later. This is partly about basic patient protection. Prolonged delays can complicate medical treatment – particularly with a virus like COVID, for example, where apparently-stable cases can go downhill very suddenly (see COVID-positive? Why it’s better to repatriate sooner rather than later). But it’s also about simple logistics. If many hospitals are taking longer and longer to free up beds for new patients, it makes sense to get onto their books as soon as possible. EMS takes that one step further by managing the whole process from the get-go. Whatever happens, we won’t stand down until we’ve seen your patient securely to their hospital bed for treatment – one less thing to worry about as they take the next crucial steps towards recovery.

Although many families know where they want their patient to be treated abroad, not everybody does. If that’s you and you need help finding a suitable hospital and consultants for your patient, we can take that on as part of our service. Maybe your local hospital is struggling with patient capacity; or maybe you’re looking for treatment in a high-quality foreign clinic and don’t know how to take the next steps. EMS flies hundreds of patients around the world for treatment every year, so we know the international healthcare network extremely well. We work closely with some of the best private hospitals and clinics in the world, so we can direct your patient to the right place – and make the arrangements for them before they get there. To find out more, drop us a line and we’ll be happy to discuss the options.

Contact us

If you’re thinking about a medical transport and concerned about securing a bed in the right hospital, please call us and we’ll be happy to give you advice. Just get in touch with our friendly experts by phone, email or WhatsApp. Head to our Contact page for the details. You can also get a free, no-obligation cost estimate for your repatriation with our online pricing calculator.

Please note that EMS Air Ambulance & Medical Repatriation is not responsible for the content of external websites.

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