France records at least 884 coronavirus deaths in care homes for elderly

At least 884 elderly people have died in nursing homes in France since the start of the coronavirus epidemic, French health chiefs reported on Thursday. It is the first time that figures for non-hospital deaths have been revealed.

France records at least 884 coronavirus deaths in care homes for elderly
Photo: AFP

France's Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon revealed on Thursday that at least 884 elderly people have died in the country's care homes for elderly, known as Ehpad (Établissement d'hébergement pour personnes âgées dépendantes) since the coronavirus epidemic began.

France's previous daily coronavirus death tolls had included only those who had died in hospitals, but it was known that the nursing homes, particularly in the east of the country, had been hard hit by the outbreak of the virus.

Salomon announced on Thursday night that at least 884 people had died in Ehpads around the country, while stressing that this is only an initial figure.

READ ALSO How and when will France's lockdown end?

France's Director general of Health Jérôme Salomon. Photo: AFP

Separately Salomon reported that in the last 24 hours 471 coronavirus patients have died in hospitals, taking France's total number of hospital deaths so far to 4,503.

But the health chief stressed that the most important number to look at for predicting the direction of the epidemic is the number of people currently in intensive care units, saying “this is the major indicator of the future course of the virus”.

Currently there are 6,399 people in intensive care, up from 6,017 on Wednesday and 5,565 on Tuesday.

The huge numbers of patients in critical conditions needing intensive care treatment has put massive strain on hospitals, particularly in the worst hit areas in eastern France and the greater Paris Île-de-France region.

At the beginning of the epidemic, France had just 5,000 intensive care beds in total. This has now been increased to 9,000 with a target to increase again to 14,000.

In total 26,246 people are in hospital while 12,428 are listed as having recovered.

The operation to evacuate patients from overwhelmed hospitals continued, with the French military airlifting patients to Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Austria. In total 163 patients from France have been transferred to hospitals in neighbouring countries.

Specially adapted TGV trains are also being used to take patients out of overwhelmed Paris hospitals to Brittany, Occitanie and Centre-Val-de-Loire regions, which have fewer cases.

 Despite this, the Paris police chief on Thursday confirmed that police have requisitioned part of the Rungis food market on the outskirts of Paris to store bodies as local funeral homes also struggle to cope.

Around a third of all coronavirus deaths have happened in the greater Paris area, although this includes patients from other areas transferred to the specialist hospitals in the capital.

The death toll on Thursday was slightly lower than the 509 people who lost their lives on Wednesday, although Salomon cautioned that it was too early to say if this was a trend.

“I would be very careful, there is an incubation phase of a week and delay in severe cases appearing,” he said.

“The evaluation of the impact of the confinement can take place at the end of the week or over the weekend. We should start to have an impact on admissions to hospital and intensive care in particular.”

“When we have the good news from the ground so much the better. But let's be careful,” he said.

France's prime Minister Edouard Philippe has predicted that this week would be “extremely difficult” but after that the government hopes that the effects of France's struct lockdown measures, which began on March 17th, will begin to be felt.

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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.