Emergency departments and hospitals in France are warning that they are in great difficulty and experiencing ‘dangerous conditions’ due to the heatwave, rising Covid cases and a lack of staff.
A total of 127 emergency services are affected, many due to a shortage of personnel and beds, the paramedic and emergency services union Samu-Urgences de France (SUdF) has said.
The high heat is causing more people to be admitted, especially in areas where the temperature is hitting 36C and over.
One nurse at the hospital centre in Carcassonne (Aude) saw a woman in her 70s after she fainted in her pool in bright sunshine at 17:00. The nurse told FranceInfo: “[The heat] puts extra pressure on emergency departments, with repercussions across all services.”
The centre in Carcassonne is one of the 127 affected by the issues, especially staff shortages.
The SUdF published a list showing that around 90% of the hospitals under tension lack medical staff, while 47% lack care assistants, nurses, or administrative staff.
To see the full list of the 127 hospitals affected by these ongoing issues, see Franceinfo’s interactive map here.
Hospital staff shortages have long been an increasing issue in hospitals across France.
In December, hospital personnel were called to strike over the situation, while President Macron sparked controversy in June when he ruled out allowing hospital workers who are not vaccinated against Covid to return to the workplace to help ease the shortage.
Read more: Sarlat, Jonzac: Hospitals in France where situation is 'very worrying'
Later in June, the health minister announced ‘first measures’ to tackle the problem, including allowing student nurses to begin work before they get their diplomas, and double pay for overtime.
Read more: France announces 'first measures' to tackle hospital staff shortages
Summer heat makes the situation worse
The heatwave conditions, coupled with the seventh wave of Covid due to the BA.5 subvariant, are putting even more pressure on already-tense centres, the SUdF said.
Read more: Coronavirus: Daily updates on the situation in France
Another centre, this time in Oloron-Sainte-Marie (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), is struggling to care for everyone due to increased admissions from elderly care home residents.
Secretary of the CGT union and a care assistant at the hospital, Angélique Lebrun, said: “How can we take care of elderly people if we don’t have the necessary resources?”
Director of the hospital, Frédéric Lecenne, said that its main difficulty was the lack of doctors.
He said: "For the month of August, we have nearly 30% of doctors' slots not yet covered…and in the past three weeks, we have reduced our total bed capacity by 20%."
He said that half of the beds in the geriatric department will be closed next week due to a lack of doctors.
The hospital is supposed to have 11 doctors, but is currently operating with just two, said Ms Lebrun. The service has only stayed open due “to the solidarity of substitute doctors who have taken on shifts”, she said.
The story is similar at the CHU Bordeaux, said emergency care assistant Agnès, a member of the Force ouvrière union.
She said: “From 17:00, the corridors of the emergency centre are full. There is one doctor, with a junior doctor. We have beds that are closed upstairs, so we can’t move patients. Fatigue is setting in. I don’t know how we’re going to hold out over the summer. I think we are going to lose patients.”
Hospital admissions due to Covid-19 rose by 19% last week, the latest figures from Santé publique France show, as the seventh wave grows. Deaths grew by 29% in one week.
The number of people in hospital due to Covid is now at over 20,000 – up from a low of 14,000 in mid-June, although far from the peak of 33,000 recorded in February 2022.
France yesterday (June 14) confirmed that more people would be eligible for a second booster vaccine, as infections of the BA.5 subvariant continue.
Read more: Covid vaccine in France: Second booster recommended for more groups
The most recent figures show that there were 119,285 cases in the previous 24 hours (although this is down 26% week-on-week).
‘All the dangers are coming at once’
Pascal Gaubert, Force ouvrière secretary at the Bordeaux CHU, said: “From midnight, the doors to emergency are basically closed, except for vital emergencies.”
Some local doctors have even stepped in to help at the hospital, to keep services running.
“This summer, all the dangers are coming at once,” he said.
Agnès added that the emergency department does not have air conditioning, and uses fans only. She said: “Imagine, it’s 34C here. I get out of work and I’m dripping with sweat.”
She said that extra fans and humidifiers have been called for to cool patients down, but she is worried that patients may become dehydrated. She said: “I think we are heading for catastrophe.”
Read more: French heatwave: what temperatures are expected this weekend?
Ms Lebrun, from Oloron-Sainte-Marie, said that staff are “very careful” to ensure patients do not become dehydrated, especially older ones, but she admitted that it is “still very hot”, and that “only the patient canteen has air conditioning”.
She said: “In 22 years of work as a care assistant, this is the first time that I have been so worried over summer. I worry that there will be deaths [as a result].”
Nathalie Cantié, manager of the hospital centre in Carcassonne, said that work is already underway to attempt to address the issue.
Mr Gaubert, at the Bordeaux CHU, said: “Management has already started to call back staff. We will need to work extra hours, call volunteers back, and delay holidays [until after the peak].”
He said that if the current wave of Covid intensifies, it could cause “extreme difficulties”.
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