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Has Switzerland got enough hospital beds?

hospital bed
Reuters / Michael Buholzer

In many countries the number of hospital beds has decreased in recent years. This could be problematic during the coronavirus crisis. Here’s an overview of the situation in Switzerland.

Because of Covid-19, healthcare facilities worldwide are under severe pressure. Many countries are struggling to stop the spread of the virus to prevent hospitals from being overloaded.

Switzerland has one of the highest numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases per capita. Hospitals therefore face a major challenge.

Fewer and fewer hospital beds in Switzerland

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As the above chart shows, the number of hospital beds available per 100,000 inhabitants in acute care has fallen steadily in recent years. One reason is that the total number of this type of hospital bed is decreasing slightly every year. On the other hand, the constantly growing resident population in Switzerland plays a role. Even if the absolute number of beds remained the same, fewer and fewer beds would be available per resident. 

Switzerland follows international downward trend

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Switzerland is not alone in this downward trend. Hospital beds are being cut throughout Europe. Outside Europe, too, there are only a few exceptions in this trend of eliminating hospital beds. The most striking example is South Korea, which now has considerably more beds in acute care than it did ten years ago.

Switzerland and Greece have a similar number of hospital beds

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Looking at the latest available figures for the OECD countries, Switzerland falls in the middle in terms of the number of hospital beds per capita – similar to Estonia, Greece or Luxembourg. Japan and South Korea have considerably more capacity; in these countries, more than twice as many beds per inhabitant are available in hospitals. 

Number of beds in intensive care units: Switzerland only average 

Many questions currently revolve around the capacity of intensive care units. This data is more difficult to obtain and the figures probably vary greatly depending on the situation. Nevertheless, a group of scientists has taken the trouble to collect these figures for Europe in 2012. They are shown in the following graph.

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In 2012, the number of beds in intensive care units (ICUs) in Switzerland was slightly below the European average. The front-runner was Germany, with over 2.5 times as many beds per person as Switzerland. Portugal and Sweden came in last. Both have less than half as many intensive care beds as Switzerland.

The figures have certainly changed since 2012. However, they are roughly in line with the figures announced by individual governments at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. The proportions are therefore likely to apply roughly to the period before the outbreak of the pandemic.

However, many countries are in the process of upgrading their ICUs in the face of the coronavirus crisis. Switzerland is receiving support from the military. In addition, a Swiss manufacturer has supplied 900 ventilators.


Translated from German by Susan Misicka

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR