Intensive care units show resilience during COVID-19

ICU planning meets demands during crisis.

The increased number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds has meant NHS Scotland’s critical care service has been able to meet the demands of the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency, and is well positioned should cases of the virus start to rise again. 

A Scottish Intensive Care Society Audit Group (SICSAG) report shows there has been more than enough ICU beds to deal with the impact of the crisis.

By the time the first positive case of COVID-19 in Scotland was confirmed, NHS Scotland health boards were working towards doubling ICU capacity.

Boards now have the capability to provide 585 ICU beds, increased from 173, and continue to plan towards being able to quadruple capacity to more than 700 beds if required.

Due to the extra beds, ICUs had the capacity to cope even at the peak of COVID-19 admissions in April.

The report, which provides data on how long patients were in ICU and the demographics of ICU patients, also shows fewer patients have been admitted to ICU in recent weeks.

As of 31 May, the average number of patients admitted over the previous seven days has been less than one patient a day.

Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith said:

“The hard work done to significantly increase the number of ICU beds available in Scotland ensured that there has been sufficient capacity to meet the demands placed on the health service by the coronavirus emergency.

“The plans put in place by local health boards and the Scottish Critical Care Delivery Group to prepare ICUs to deal with the pandemic meant that, even at its peak, ICUs have been operating within the capacity available.   

“I would like to thank the exceptional hard work, commitment and on-going dedication to service that has been demonstrated by our NHS staff across Scotland.”

Chair of the Scottish Critical Care Delivery Group Dr Rory MacKenzie said:

“The critical care community in Scotland and the Scottish Government Health Resilience Unit have been engaging closely during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“That meant we could plan for expansion and react to activity and escalation of concerns in a way that provided assurance to those on the ground during these unprecedented times.”

President of Scottish Intensive Care Society Dr Stephen Cole said:

“Working with the Scottish Government and national procurement, we were able to provide the potential for more than 700 ventilated ICU beds, four times the base capacity across Scotland. 

“Scotland has much to be proud of in the way that the pandemic has been managed. I have no doubt that the death toll would have been greater without the unwavering  support and close working relationship between the Government and the clinical community.”


The Scottish Intensive Care Society Audit Group (SICSAG) report can be read online:


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