A government agreement reached Wednesday in Belgium will allow for hospital staff and resources to be deployed in nursing homes grappling with clusters of the new coronavirus (Covid-19).
While non-binding in nature, the deal lays the groundwork for health authorities on a regional level to mobilise hospitals to make up for shortages of staff and equipment in Belgian nursing homes and other residential health care centres.
“So long as their primary care missions are not comprised, this general framework foresees that hospitals may support institutions of care for the elderly,” a press release from the Interministerial Conference on Public Health (ICPH), which approved the deal, said.
While the ICPH is traditionally made up of federal health ministers and of Belgium’s regional and language community governments, the meeting on Wednesday also included Minister Philip De Backer, who is managing Belgium’s shortage of medical supplies.
The deal comes as nursing homes emerge as major infection hubs in Belgium, with authorities racing to ramp up testing amid both residents and staff.
Last week, federal health officials estimated that nursing home residents made up nearly half of Belgium’s Covid-19 deaths, an estimation which has since been publicly challenged by a virologist who is a member of the federal government’s coronavirus advisory team.
Virologist Marc Van Ranst, cited testing inconsistencies to say that nursing home residents reported as having died from Covid-19 may have actually died from something else.
The ICHP said that moves to divert resources from hospitals and into other care centres should take into account “the great pressure under which the hospital care system finds itself and will continue to find itself in the near future.”
Last week, Flemish Health Minister Wouter Beke had last week issued a similar appeal to the “solidarity” of Flemish hospitals, saying it was also in their interest to help nursing homes to avoid an influx of hospital admissions.
To make up for insufficient supplies of bottled oxygen at nursing homes, which is crucial for treating some Covid-19 patients, the deal also calls on hospitals to admit nursing home residents or to delay the discharge of a nursing home residents who do not have access to oxygen supply in their care facilities.