New EU programme mobilises ‘healthcare army’ as second wave approaches

Society lost sight of the fact that the most important players in this crisis are people, Jozef Kesecioglu, president of ESICM, stressed.  [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The leading association of intensive care professionals in Europe is launching a course to train healthcare professionals in intensive care skills to prepare them for the second wave of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 skills preparation course (known as C19_SPACE), put together by the  European Society of Intensive Care Medicine (ESICM), will provide skills to physicians, nurses and healthcare professionals unaccustomed to working in intensive care units (ICU) in an attempt to better prepare Europe for the second wave of COVID-19.

The course, which is EU-funded, comes after medical facilities were overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases back in March as the full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in the EU.

“Our hospitals were not ready to face a surge of this magnitude of sick patients needing urgent intensive care,”  Maurizio Cecconi, president-elect of ESICM and a practising doctor, told EURACTIV.

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Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for health and food safety, said that the programme “further demonstrates the EU’s commitment to support front line healthcare workers across Europe by providing essential medical training to ensure that they are fully equipped with the necessary knowledge to help in the specialist setting of ICUs in times of crisis.”

People are the ‘bread and butter’ of healthcare systems

During the first wave, the focus was mostly on equipment, such as shortages of bed spaces, ICU ventilators and medicines. 

However, society lost sight of the fact that the most important players in this crisis are people, Jozef Kesecioglu, president of ESICM, stressed. 

“Of course, ICUs, ventilators, these are all important. But these can’t save lives if there are no skilled people to operate them,” he pointed out.

As such, more focus needed to be given to equipping professionals with the necessary skills to charter these unknown territories. 

“We had to use this ‘peacetime’ to prepare for ‘war’ time,” he stressed, setting out ECISM’s vision to create a European “healthcare army” of qualified healthcare professionals to fight the virus and be deployed in ICUs in case of emergency.

Although they make no secret of the fact that you cannot train specialists overnight, the programme offers the necessary, basic skills to medical personnel who do not work regularly in ICUs but may be called on to help in case of subsequent waves.

This is because there are a number of particularities about working in ICUs, as the “last line of defence” for citizens.

For example, time is of the essence in ICUs, with rapid decisions taking place in incredibly pressured circumstances, all of which make it a very stressful environment for medical personnel to work in.

Shining a spotlight on moral injury and mental health

Cecconi explained that psychological safety is also of paramount importance, highlighting that anything that could help to give confidence is extremely valuable.

In challenging circumstances, doctors and nurses have to make crucial decisions, which is why solid training and supervision from experienced team leaders is key, he stressed.

He added that some stressful situations can cause ‘moral injury’, which occurs when medical staff are dissatisfied and demoralised with how they are required to practice, such as in sub-optimal circumstances.

Kesecioglu said that this “moral injury” should be taken seriously so it does not turn into a psychological disease.

“And training people safely and giving them the right support is a great help in this regard,” he said.

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Innovative virtual tools

In line with the virtual lives that we have all become accustomed to over the past few months, the training programme consists of a mix of both online and face-to-face training sessions, using innovative tools such as webcasts and podcasts.

Virtual Reality glasses are also being used for the first time to provide an immersive learning experience which allows participants to experience a ‘real’ ICU setting without the real-life consequences. 

They added that such virtual simulations could also be a great advancement in medical teaching in the future.

The virtual format of this training allows it to be rolled out across all EU member states and is free of charge for all participants. 

All have our role to play

Kesecioglu added a thank you to the wider public for playing their part in helping to reduce the burden of the virus, saying that citizens have a key role in preventing transmission.

“Prevention does not begin at the gates of intensive care, but within the community. That’s why we need all your help,” he said, urging everyone to continue complying with measures and wearing their masks.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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