If the novel coronavirus continues to spread at its current rate, leaving hospital beds and breathing machines in short supply, the Italian government will consider halting treatment for individuals over 80 or in poor health.
This desperate measure is part of a new regional protocol written by the Italian government’s crisis management unit, although it’s currently only “draft plans drawn up for the next phase of the crisis.”
However, according to reports from The Telegraph, “the document is already complete and only approval from a technical-scientific committee is needed before it is sent to hospitals. The criteria are expected to apply throughout Italy, government sources said.”
The document outlines the criterion for care: “Access to intensive therapy in cases of emergency must include age of less than 80 or a score on the Charlson comorbidity Index [which indicates how many other medical conditions the patient has] of less than 5.”
A patient’s likelihood of recovering from resuscitation will also influence doctors’ decisions.
The document also notes how Italian healthcare infrastructure will be unlikely to sustain the inevitable number of Coronavirus cases: “The growth of the current epidemic makes it likely that a point of imbalance between the clinical needs of patients with COVID-19 and the effective availability of intensive resources will be reached. Should it become impossible to provide all patients with intensive care services, it will be necessary to apply criteria for access to intensive treatment, which depends on the limited resources available.”
It continues: “The criteria set out guidelines if the situation becomes of such an exceptional nature as to make the therapeutic choices on the individual case dependent on the availability of resources, forcing [hospitals] to focus on those cases in which the cost/benefit ratio is more favorable for clinical treatment.”
Doctors have responded with unease with one commenting, “this is how it is in a war.”
The Italian government has already taken extreme measures to contain the spread of the disease given its sizable elderly population, including banning funerals, closing cemeteries, and shutting down thousands of senior centers. Despite this, Italy has over 1,000 deaths – second only to China – and the number is increasing every day.
Of greatest concern is the fact that over 15,000 are infected, nearly three times the amount of intensive care beds Italy currently has.
And the United States is facing a similar situation: a Coronavirus catastrophe induced by a shortage of medical supplies. Reports have shown a dearth of ventilators and hospital beds, with projected patients outnumbering the availability of supplies at least six-to-one.