Most COVID-19 patients in intensive care are now “in their 50s and 60s”, an ITU consultant has warned, as staff continue struggling with increasing numbers of people seriously ill with the virus.

As the country continues to deal with a rocketing tally of new cases – a record 263 patients were confirmed positive for the virus on Sunday – healthcare professionals are again sounding a serious warning: the ITU is filling up.

Speaking to Times of Malta, consultant Joseph Paul Vella confirmed the increasing patient numbers admitted to ITU are “no longer mostly elderly patients”.

“We have seen a progressive rise in young and middle-aged patients. Most are now in their 50s and 60s, with more patients in their 40s than over 80,” Vella said.

Since September, he said, hospital staff have run three ITUs with COVID-19 patients, the standard unit as well as two others specifically set up when the pandemic hit the island almost a year ago.

Consultant blames current situation on lack of discipline

Nurses and other healthcare workers are now gearing up to set up the fourth unit as fears mount there could be even more patients who need intensive care.

“To our dismay, the number of ITU admissions is still rising and we are experiencing over 10 COVID ITU admissions each week.

ITU care goes way beyond simply having an available bed. It is round-the-clock, all-encompassing therapy, involving many skilled and dedicated health professionals who can only do their best with the resources available, he said.

The work rate since January is now higher than it has ever been with many newly-trained nurses and doctors providing care to all our patients.

Despite noting that patient outcome has improved over the past months, Vella warned that a sobering 50 per cent of those put on ventilators are still dying.

He blames the current situation on those who have a “lack of discipline”.

“ITU staff cannot condone the lack of discipline shown by members of the public who are contributing to these high case numbers and more unnecessary deaths,” he said.

The consultant also called for the vaccination programme to move at the “fastest possible pace” to protect the younger group of patients now being admitted to ITU.

Vella's comments come just days after the doctors’ association sounded a similar warning and said the hospital could soon buckle under the pressure of an over-stretched intensive care system.

The authorities have refused to say whether they would be stepping up restrictions to tackle the latest spike, urging people to obey the rules already in place.

Meanwhile, they insist the numbers are reaching record highs because of the UK variant which spreads more rapidly and which is now in the community.

Some eight per cent of the cases of infections are of the UK variant, public health chief Charmaine Gauci said last week.

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