Cuts in intensive care beds and lack of coordination between governments has left Europe woefully underprepared to fight the COVID-19 pandemic

Major anaesthesia congress postponed to keep specialists on the frontline

For immediate release

*Note: ESA President Professor Kai Zacharowski can be contacted for interviews, see contact details at the end of this press release. A link to a BBC interview he has done is also below*

A lack of coordination between European countries regarding strategy and containment measures, as well as a shortage of intensive care beds across most European countries, has left Europe woefully underprepared to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, says the President of the European Society of Anaesthesiology (ESA), Professor Kai Zacharowski (Director of the Department of Anesthesia, Intensive Care Medicine and Pain Therapy, University Hospital Frankfurt, Germany).

The COVID-19 crisis is sweeping through Europe and the world, and anaesthesiologists (including anaesthetists, critical care specialists and intensivists) are a large part of the teams battling the pandemic. Prof Zacharowski says: “Governments in Europe, including the United Kingdom, have not prepared together for the unbelievable stretch on our health services being caused by this pandemic. We have not been able to organise ourselves in a way to have everything that we need, such as enough ventilators to be able to treat large numbers of patients in intensive care at the same time.”

He adds: “We cannot stop the virus, all we can do is try to stretch out the peak of cases that need intensive care, so that we will be able to treat as many seriously ill patients as possible. Unfortunately, as the experience in Italy is showing, there are going to be times when very difficult decisions have to be made about who gets treatment and who does not, based on the likelihood of survival.”

He continues: “For the last decade across Europe we have been cutting down on hospital beds, including intensive care beds. And now we are realising that we don’t have enough. If we had arranged and distributed equipment at the right time, countries might have been able to avoid the situation in Italy. But now, there has been a rush to order equipment such as ventilators, which companies are struggling to provide due to interruption in supply of parts from China.”

“According to the unpublished data provided by our Italian colleagues the mean age of all COVID-19 patients is 70 years, and one of the major risk factors for admission to intensive care is obesity,” explains ESA Immediate Past President Stefan De Hert, based at Ghent University Hospital in Belgium. “Although it is mostly more serious in older patients, patients less than 50 years old without underlying conditions seem to constitute one in every five of the COVID-19 ICU patients. Finally, infected women seem to develop less symptoms than men, and also children seem to experience the infection without important clinical problems. These data are quite similar to what we have learned from the experiences of our Chinese colleagues.”

“We have closely monitored the pandemic and the pressures it is creating for our colleagues across Europe. As a result, we have decided to postpone our annual Euroanaesthesia congress, scheduled for 30 May to 1 June in Barcelona, to a later date,” adds Prof Zacharowski. “We realise how vital anaesthesiologists and critical care specialists are during this time, and that the need to be present in their hospitals far outweighs any other normal activities.  Our members and community are crucial in containing this pandemic and saving countless lives.”

He concludes: “Together we stand in solidarity with the people involved and send our deepest sympathies to the families of those who have suffered the most during this crisis.”


Note to editors: 

Prof Zacharowski was interviewed on BBC News Channel on Friday 13 March regarding COVID-19, covering some of the themes above. To see this coverage, see:

Professor Kai Zacharowski (Director of the Department of Anesthesia, Intensive Care Medicine and Pain Therapy, University Hospital Frankfurt, Germany). Please e-mail to arrange interview. E)

Alternative contact: Jennifer Rose, ESA Communication Manager. T) +32 2210 5774 / +32 4706 1 2344 E)

Alternative contact: Tony Kirby of Tony Kirby PR. T) +44 7834 385827 E)

ESA website: