Demand for ICU facilities/beds surge: Shortage of trained nurses to man new ICU beds 


  • Nurse-to-ICU bed ratio 12:1 

  • Spike in young Covid patients  

  • All 600 ICU beds occupied; 46 Covid patients, 554 other patients 

  • Bed allocation time, trained staffing among challenges: Health Min. 

  • ICU retiree nurses to be reassigned if needed 




It is learnt that under the present ratio, 12 trained nurses are required to handle a single ICU bed and that all trained nurses are already occupied with a total of around 600 ICU beds in the country. 

According to Ministry of Health Disaster Preparedness and Response Unit National Co-ordinator Dr. H.D.B. Herath, a total of 15 ICUs with a total of 146 ICU beds have already been allocated to treat the Covid-19 patients in the country. Of the 146 ICU beds allocated to treat countrywide Covid-19 patients, only 46 ICU beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients as at 2 p.m. on 30 April. Even though the rest of the 100 ICU beds, out of the 146 ICU beds, too were allocated for the purposes of treating Covid-19 patients, they are presently occupied by non-Covid-19 patients in need of ICU treatment. 

“We can’t allocate all ICU beds for Covid-19 treatment, as there are other patients that require ICU treatment as well. Therefore, even if we have around 600 beds, only 146 have been allocated for Covid-19 treatment,” he added. 

Responding to the allegation levelled recently regarding the shortage of ICU beds for the treatment of Covid-19 patients, Dr. Herath noted that the issue was sometimes a case of timing while at other times it was a case of meeting the present high demand with the limitations in the available human resources. 

“Sometimes it is the timing. This is because, usually, in order to allocate an ICU bed, it takes around three hours, and sometimes within that period where preparation to make an ICU bed ready for occupation takes place, the patient might die. At other times, even if the demand for ICU beds is so high, adding a new bed has become a difficult task. This is because we need trained nurses handling ICU beds. Not all nurses are trained for that purpose and neither can we suddenly train nurses for that purpose. Given the current ratio, 12 nurses are required to handle one ICU bed,” Dr. Herath stressed. 

When queried as to how they would plan to respond to an emergency situation, Dr. Herath said: “At present, all ICU trained nurses are occupied with work. The only other nurses that are available are the ones who have retired from handling ICU work but are still working at hospitals, albeit in different departments. If such a necessity arises, the support of those nurses can be obtained. There is also the possibility of mobilising the resource to match the situation.” 

The Health Ministry has meanwhile informed all hospital directors to assign ICU trained staff to the ICUs of the respective hospitals if the said staff members are working in other wards. 

Meanwhile, State Minister of Primary Healthcare, Epidemics, and Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said last week that Sri Lanka would add 70 more ICU beds to face the surge in the Covid-19 pandemic, adding also that a decision was taken in consideration of the increasing demand for ICUs, to immediately assign staff to ICUs that are not being used at the moment. 

“The country’s ICUs are reaching full capacity as youth who contracted Covid-19 are experiencing complications and this has given rise to the increase in the number of patients in ICUs,” she added.