The Health Ministry warned Monday that the soaring number of coronavirus patients in hospitals means the country is starting to exceed the number of available ECMO (heart and lung) machines used to provide prolonged cardiac and respiratory support for patients in critical condition.
Sources in the ministry further warned that if the issue continues to escalate, they will be forced to choose which patients to connect to the life-saving machines via an ethics committee whose role is to prioritize treatment for patients who have a better chance of survival.
"We are not there yet," the ministry clarified, “but the situation can come to pass in the future. We never thought we would have to treat over 40 ECMO patients at the same time, yet here we are. We are now reaching our limit.”
According to the Health Ministry, 41 coronavirus patients in critical condition were connected to ECMO machines last week. And while there are about 70 such machines in Israel, the real issue lies in the fact that each machine requires two nurses, a dedicated technologist and a doctor to operate, which then leads to serious deficit in manpower.
Another issue that has risen is the number of machines available in large hospitals compared to smaller sites and those further from the center of the country.
Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva has 11 ECMO machines while Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot has just two. Ziv Medical Center in Safed, Assuta Public Hospital in Ashdod and Galilee Medical Center Nahariya have none at all.
Just recently a patient in critical condition was transferred to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv due to the severe lack of ECMO machines in northern Israel.
"Given that there will be 2,000 patients in serious condition, the number of patients we will be able to connect to ECMO will diminish," says a senior Health Ministry official.
“That is why we will have to consider who is most likely to survive. It's sad, but this is where we are," he said.
"If the level of infection rises we may need to bring in ethics committees. Even with the current number [of patients] we are not giving the best care we can."