Purpose: To quantify the numbers of critical care beds in Europe and to understand the differences in these numbers between countries when corrected for population size and gross domestic product.
Methods: Prospective data collection of critical care bed numbers for each country in Europe from July 2010 to July 2011. Sources were identified in each country that could provide data on numbers of critical care beds (intensive care and intermediate care). These data were then cross-referenced with data from international databases describing population size and age, gross domestic product (GDP), expenditure on healthcare and numbers of acute care beds.
Results: We identified 2,068,892 acute care beds and 73,585 (2.8 %) critical care beds. Due to the heterogeneous descriptions of these beds in the individual countries it was not possible to discriminate between intensive care and intermediate care in most cases. On average there were 11.5 critical care beds per 100,000 head of population, with marked differences between countries (Germany 29.2, Portugal 4.2). The numbers of critical care beds per country corrected for population size were positively correlated with GDP (r(2) = 0.16, p = 0.05), numbers of acute care beds corrected for population (r(2) = 0.12, p = 0.05) and the percentage of acute care beds designated as critical care (r(2) = 0.59, p < 0.0001). They were not correlated with the proportion of GDP expended on healthcare.
Conclusions: Critical care bed numbers vary considerably between countries in Europe. Better understanding of these numbers should facilitate improved planning for critical care capacity and utilization in the future.