Swiss hospital unable to provide ICU bed to cancer patient amid COVID spike

Swiss hospital unable to provide ICU bed to cancer patient amid COVID spike

A hospital in Aarau has become the first in Switzerland to triage a patient due to a lack of capacity in intensive care. A cancer patient was turned away from the hospital's ICU because there was simply no more room.

As COVID cases increase so do triages

The concept of "triage" is where doctors are forced to choose who to treat in hospital, based on their overall medical condition. This could range from moving patients to less intensive care, right up to giving patients with the highest chances of recovery priority over others. 

Christian Frey, ICU doctor in the Hirslanden Clinic in Aarau, admitted that they had triaged patients, saying “A person suffering from cancer could not be admitted to intensive care. With his agreement, he was ventilated non-invasively in the normal department.” He warned that as the number of COVID cases increased, so too would the number of triages.

Half of all ICU beds in hospital occupied by COVID patients

Frey noted that “Half of our intensive care beds are occupied by patients with COVID. They are not all vaccinated. This is problematic because we have to put other patients aside because of them.” Miodrag Filipovic, from the cantonal hospital in St. Gallen, said that "In an extreme triage situation, it is the patients whose chances of survival are the greatest who are given intensive care." 

The new wave of COVID has made the situation especially difficult, with infections up 50 percent a week, hospitalisations up 40 and ICU admissions increasing by 20 percent. Cities in Switzerland have sounded the alarm; Bern has declared a “Code Red” situation, Geneva has been said to be in “crisis mode” and Zurich no longer has space in its' intensive care unit.

For Olivia Keiser, epidemiologist at the University of Geneva, it has become clear that “current measures are not enough.” She said the situation in hospitals should be the government and the public's number one concern. Doctor Angelo Barrile from Zurich said he was appalled that triage has had to be used in Switzerland, saying that as a survivor of cancer himself, “it could well happen to me.”

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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