Coronavirus: European hospitals face shortages of critical medicines

In the hardest-hit hospitals, supply could run out in just two days

Nurses work in protective clothing in a hospital room where a COVID-19 patient from France is being treated at the University Hospital in Essen, Germany, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Today patients infected with the coronavirus and seriously ill with Covid-19 were flown from France to Essen.  For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (Marcel Kusch/dpa via AP)

Nine European university hospitals have appealed for help warning they will run short of essential medicines for Covid-19 patients in less than two weeks.

In a statement urging national governments to act, the European University Hospital Alliance has said without international cooperation to stabilise supply, frontline medics will no longer be able to provide proper care to coronavirus patients.

The hospital group has warned that aside from shortages of protective gear and ventilators, existing stocks of muscle relaxants, sedatives and painkillers were also running low.

In the hardest-hit hospitals, supply could run out in just two days. Others have at most two weeks’ worth of medicine.

“The most urgent need now is for the drugs that are necessary for intensive care patients,” the statement read.


As stocks of medicines dwindle, some hospitals are asking doctors to re-think dosages. Experts from Paris’ hospital authority last week drew up guidelines for doctors to deal with the expected shortages. Medics were asked to think twice about whether the use of certain drugs was essential.

“It is extremely worrying that overworked and often less-experienced nurses and doctors-in-training, drafted to fill the gaps, have to use products and dosages that they are not used to,” the group wrote, on behalf of hospitals in Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Spain.

At hospitals in England, the National Health Service has warned the Covid-19 outbreak puts oxygen supplies at risk. The health body issued a letter instructing hospital bosses over the dangers posed to stocks after one London hospital, which has not been named, nearly ran out of oxygen needed to treat patients.

The Guardian reported the risk was described as a “critical safety concern” which could result in serious consequences for all patients relying on oxygen.

The European University Hospital Alliance has warned that the only solution to these kinds of shortages is an international response.

“No single country in Europe has the production facilities to provide all the drugs [or protective gear or ventilators] needed,” the group wrote, pointing out that some countries had shut their borders to exporting such drugs but not importing them. “Coordinated European action will be of vital importance.”