A flexible method for optimising sharing of healthcare resources and demand in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

PLoS One. 2020 Oct 21;15(10):e0241027. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0241027. eCollection 2020.


As the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to grow, local health services are at risk of being overwhelmed with patients requiring intensive care. We develop and implement an algorithm to provide optimal re-routing strategies to either transfer patients requiring Intensive Care Units (ICU) or ventilators, constrained by feasibility of transfer. We validate our approach with realistic data from the United Kingdom and Spain. In the UK, we consider the National Health Service at the level of trusts and define a 4-regular geometric graph which indicates the four nearest neighbours of any given trust. In Spain we coarse-grain the healthcare system at the level of autonomous communities, and extract similar contact networks. Through random search optimisation we identify the best load sharing strategy, where the cost function to minimise is based on the total number of ICU units above capacity. Our framework is general and flexible allowing for additional criteria, alternative cost functions, and can be extended to other resources beyond ICU units or ventilators. Assuming a uniform ICU demand, we show that it is possible to enable access to ICU for up to 1000 additional cases in the UK in a single step of the algorithm. Under a more realistic and heterogeneous demand, our method is able to balance about 600 beds per step in the Spanish system only using local sharing, and over 1300 using countrywide sharing, potentially saving a large percentage of these lives that would otherwise not have access to ICU.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / therapy*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Critical Care
  • Health Resources / supply & distribution*
  • Hospital Bed Capacity
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / supply & distribution
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Pandemics
  • Patient Transfer
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Spain / epidemiology
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Ventilators, Mechanical / supply & distribution