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The saturation of the Spanish health system and its lack of resources is something that professionals in the sector have been denouncing before the public for years. The Covid, like any crisis, revealed those deficiencies that, now, international organizations are bringing out again.

According to a study carried out by the OECD, Spain faced the first wave of Covid, being the fifth country with the least beds of Intensive Care Units (ICU) Per inhabitant. This is reflected in his latest report in which it shows that, with 2.4 intensive care beds per 1,000 inhabitants, Spain is the fifth country behind the OECD in this type of resources.

The document explains that the country with the least capacity in the UCI is Canada (2 per 100,000) followed by Chile (2), Sweden (2) and Israel (2.2).

On the opposite side are Japan (7.8 beds per 1,000 inhabitants), Korea (7.1) and Germany (6). Figures that triple the Spanish data and that, according to the international organization, contributed to better health care during Covid-19.

In its report, the OECD assures that the high occupancy rates of intensive care beds are the symptom of a health system “under pressure” which has a very limited ability to handle an unexpected increase in patients requiring immediate hospitalization. Something like what has happened in Spain during the toughest stages of the pandemic. In them, the saturation of the ICUs was the biggest problem in the health system.

Chart prepared by the OECD.


The OECD report itself speaks of “many countries” in which there is a low supply of hospital beds for acute care, such as Ireland, Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom.

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“Given the characteristics of the treatment required for the most severe Covid-19 patients, the most important bottlenecks in hospital capacity are occurring in intensive care beds,” warns the OECD study.


As an example, the OECD brings to the table the experience in China and Italy which, in his opinion, has highlighted the “critical” need to guarantee the adequate capacity of beds (both ICU and ward) to face a high increase in patient admission, as occurred during the Covid-19.

Similarly, the OECD highlights that acute care is a broad category that generally encompasses units that provide not only intensive care, but also surgical and medical specialties, gynecological and obstetric services and some psychiatric care. So remember that there are different types of plant bed that can be temporarily converted into flexible intensive care units. “A key point, especially for the treatment with Covid-19,” he remarks.

Overall, most OECD countries have between 2.5 and 5 acute care hospital beds for every 1,000 people. The lowest figures are in Mexico, Canada, Chile, Sweden, Israel, Spain and the United States, with less than 2.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people since 2017.

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