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HEALTH

France uses special trains to evacuate coronavirus patients from overwhelmed hospitals

France on Sunday staged its largest evacuation of coronavirus patients to date from hospitals in the hard-hit east, increasing efforts to free up intensive care units as officials brace for even more serious cases in the coming days.

France uses special trains to evacuate coronavirus patients from overwhelmed hospitals
French nurses take care of four patients infected with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in a medicalised TGV (high-speed train) at Nancy train station as 24 patients from Nancy and Metz are being tran

The two specially modified TGV high-speed trains carried 36 patients from Mulhouse and Nancy toward hospitals along France's western coast, in an effort to free up intensive care units as officials brace for even more serious cases in the coming days.

Dozens of hospital workers, flanked by police and soldiers standing guard, spent hours installing four patients in each wagon in an operation that began before dawn.

In Maps: How the coronavirus epidemic has hit different parts of France

“We have to free up beds, it's absolutely crucial that we air out these intensive care units. We're still seeing an increase in patient numbers,” said Francois Brun, head of emergency services at the regional hospital in nearby Metz.

The evacuations came as Germany sent a military plane for the first time to Strasbourg to bring two patients to a hospital in Ulm.

AFP

In total around 80 French patients have been hospitalised in Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg, European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin told France Inter radio.

She also thanked Berlin for sending France potentially life-saving ventilators “as recently as yesterday”.

France has been evacuating dozens over the past week from the east, hoping to stay ahead of a crisis that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned would only worsen over the next two weeks.

Overall nearly 4,300 coronavirus patients are in intensive care, many with severe respiratory problems requiring ventilators that officials worry could soon be in short supply.

Philippe said the government was racing to have 14,000 intensive care beds available soon, compared with around 5,000 before the outbreak began in January. 

AFP

'Battle is only starting'

France has mobilised its military to help hospitals, with the army using a helicopter to transport two patients to Metz and Essen in western Germany on Saturday.

“This war will probably be won on the basis of intensive care beds, and our ability to strategically use all our intensive care resources on the national level,” said Marie-Odile Saillard, director of the Metz regional hospital.

There are now 37,575 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in France, up 4,611 on the day before, the government said Sunday.

The death toll stands at 2,314, but the numbers do not include deaths reported by the roughly 7,000 retirement homes and assisted-living facilities across the country, where officials fear the virus risks spreading quickly.

Those figures will start to be reported this week, the prime minister said Sunday, warning that “the battle is only starting.”

The government has ordered one billion face masks, mainly from China, but warned that worldwide demand for protective equipment meant they might not arrive soon enough for medical workers facing shortages.

France has been on lockdown since March 17 in a bid to limit the outbreak, a situation it now expects to last until at least April 15.

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HEALTH

Sick patients in France lacking GP to be contacted before summer, minister says

The French minister of health promised that chronically ill patients who aren't registered with a doctor will be contacted by the summer.

Sick patients in France lacking GP to be contacted before summer, minister says

François Braun, France’s Health Minister, said on Monday that all chronically ill patients without a general practitioner will be contacted before the month of June with “concrete solutions”.

There is a general shortage of medécins généraliste (GPs or family doctors) in France, with some areas classed as ‘medical deserts’ where people find it almost impossible to register with a doctor.

The health minister said that people without access to primary care doctors are “deprived of a regular follow-up” and that this is “no longer acceptable” for those with chronic illnesses. These groups will be contacted via Assurance Maladie before the summer, he added. 

Braun’s statements came a few weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech to healthcare workers outlining the ways he is seeking to overhaul the health system in the country.

READ MORE: How Macron intends to revive France’s ailing health system in 6 months

In his speech, the president promised that the “600,000 patients in France who suffer from a chronic disease would be offered a primary care doctor – or at least a ‘reference team’ – by the end of the year.”

Macron also discussed plans establish a “Conseil national de la refondation (CNR – or National Council for Reconstruction)” to build a “roadmap” for solutions in the fight against medical deserts.

Approximately six million French people are estimated to lack a primary care doctor, and 600,000 of those people suffer from long-term diseases, according to Franceinfo.

READ MORE: What to do if you live in one of France’s ‘medical deserts’

This issue is aggravated by the fact that almost a third of French people live in medical deserts – or geographical zones where healthcare providers and general practitioners are severely lacking compared to the rest of the country. Generally, this refers to healthcare in the community such as GPs or family doctors, dentists or community nurses, rather than hospitals.

Medical desertification mainly affects rural areas with an ageing population – though they’re also developing in some towns and cities (including some Paris suburbs) as retiring doctors are not replaced and younger medics establish themselves in more dynamic zones, both in terms of economy and activities. 

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