Covid, flu, bronchiolitis: overloaded French hospitals on ‘plan blanc’

The plan allows hospitals to reorganise and cancel non-urgent operations, and redirect resources to cope with the ‘triple epidemic’

A close up of a French hospital emergency entry sign (Urgences)
When the plan blanc is initiated, people are urged to call 15 instead of coming straight into the emergency department
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Hospitals in north-east France have launched a ‘plan blanc (white plan)’ due to increasing tension in emergency departments as a result of a rise in cases of Covid, flu, and bronchiolitis.

The Agence régionale de santé (ARS) Grand Est activated the plan in Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin on December 14.

The plan blanc is a nationally-agreed plan that any hospital can declare if it deems necessary. It allows directors of establishments to adapt to increased pressure, and redirect resources towards the most urgent patients. They can reschedule non-urgent appointments, open new beds, and redirect staff to different roles.

Instead of heading straight to hospital, people in Grand Est are instead advised to call the number 15 to check where they should go and if they really need to go to an emergency department.

In a statement, the agency said: “Against a backdrop of pressure on healthcare establishments over the last few weeks, and following discussions with stakeholders, ARS Grand Est has activated the regional mobilisation plan.”

It highlighted that people should still seek out healthcare if there is an emergency or if they believe they have a serious problem, and said that “in all cases, the public is asked to call 15 before going to A&E”.

Read our latest article: SEE: big rise in Covid cases registered in France in a week

Epidemic levels

The Grand Est region is currently suffering - like much of France - under the pressure of the ‘triple epidemic’ of bronchiolitis, Covid, and flu.

An increase in elderly patients requiring hospitalisation, the low number of beds available in emergency departments, and the added pressure on medical and nursing staff, were also factors in the decision to begin the plan blanc, the ARS said.

Bronchiolitis is at epidemic levels everywhere in France, while flu is reaching pre-epidemic levels in nine regions, especially in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.

Read more: Flu now at epidemic level in France, south worst hit

Covid levels are also the highest they have been for two years - especially in the Grand Est region - but a new epidemic has not been declared.

In early December, Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau commented on low flu vaccination figures, and urged people to get their flu and Covid vaccines as soon as possible.

Read more: Alert over low take up for flu vaccination in France

He said: “We need to do something about it. Otherwise, the hospitals and the most vulnerable will pay the price.”

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