Unions warn of ‘unprecedented crisis’ in French emergency care over the summer

Emergency medical care in France is at crisis point this summer because of a lack of beds and staff, a union report has warned.

Unions warn of 'unprecedented crisis' in French emergency care over the summer
(Photo: Martin Bureau / AFP)

The SAMU-Urgences de France (SUdF) union has said a survey had revealed that acute medical services risk an “explosive situation” in hospital, after a month “in overdrive” because of a lack of staff cover and a shortage of beds.

“Our health system is going through an unprecedented crisis,” the union said after its survey of emergency medical care systems, based on feedback from 331 health establishments in 92 départements, was published. 

The summer brings particular challenges to the medical system as staff take holidays and many patients are unable to see their usual doctor – either because the doctor is on holiday or because the patient is visiting a different part of France – and so use emergency or out-of-hours services. 

READ ALSO How to access non-emergency medical care in France 

“In this context, access to urgent care and unscheduled care are threatened and emergency structures are put in overdrive,” the report said.

Of the 331 establishments surveyed, 90 percent of them said they had difficulties with medical staffing and 89 percent with non-medical staffing. Seventy-three percent have resorted to interim solutions during the summer to reinforce emergency services. In addition, almost all facilities (95 percent) reported a significant lack of available beds for their patients.

In total, 72 hospitals (22 percent of those surveyed) said they had to reduce or close their acute care units (UHCD), while 42 hospitals said shortages forced them to close emergency departments overnight. 

The report said the government’s 41 recommendations of the “mission flash” intended to ease summer issues in healthcare which came into force this summer, were “insufficient”. 

The report said the recommendations, following a report by François Braun before he was appointed Minister of Health, “does not ensure fluidity and safe operation” in emergencies. 

Recommendations include “regulating admissions”, either with “paramedical triage at the entrance” to ERs, or by “systematic prior medical regulation” by the SAMU telephone switchboard. 

“Educational messages will be broadcast to encourage the French to call 15 before any trip to the emergency room, in order to be better oriented towards a care offer adapted to their needs”, the Minister of Health said when the mission’s recommendations were introduced in July.

To fight against the “additional hardship” of the summer period, SUdF has called for the “upgrading of paramedical staff”, including for ambulance drivers and medical switchboard operators, the doubling of allowances for night and weekend guards, and improved bed management.

“Without binding measures, we must expect a rapid evolution towards an explosive situation”, SUdF warned. 

Its forecasts predict “the situation will deteriorate further in August, with an increase in institutional closures of beds and a decrease in the availability of care linked to vacations”.

Member comments

  1. My sister and I experienced the urgent care failure just this week as she came down with Covid in the south of France. She felt so rotten she asked to go to a hospital. The ambulance came fairly quickly but they took over an hour to ask a lot of questions, take some vitals and then get authorization from the hospital to arrive. She was not strapped in to the gurney in the ambulance and the headpiece was ripped and torn with foam coming out. When we got to the emergency room we were not allowed inside for over an hour with the ambulance drivers waiting with us. After they had to leave for another call my sister was put in a wheelchair and we were directed to wait outside in a filthy parking area with nowhere for me to sit. After about another hour we were directed to come inside and speak to a nurse, who asked all the same questions, gave my sister two pills and insisted we wait outside in the dirty parking area. Oh, and she said there were no beds available anyway. Every time I asked the receptionist how much longer it would be to see a doctor, she shrugged and said she didn’t know. After about another hour of waiting outside with no care we got disgusted and decided to leave. I went to the receptionist and said we are going to leave now and I would like to pay. She said she had no idea how much I owed, so I said goodbye and we left. Don’t need an emergency room in France!

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High pollen counts predicted in France due to heatwave

Pollen from highly allergenic ragweed plant is expected to peak earlier this year, as a result of high temperatures.

High pollen counts predicted in France due to heatwave

Ragweed pollen (ambroisie) is expected to spread earlier this year across many parts of France, particularly in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

The National Aerobiological Surveillance Network (NASN) announced on Tuesday that the Lyon region has reached a critical threshold of ragweed pollen in the air to begin causing allergic reactions in sensitive people. The peak for the concentration of pollen in the air is expected for the end of August, which would be in approximately 20 days.

While the risk of allergic reaction is highest in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes currently, particularly in areas like northern Isère, Drôme, Ardèche and southern Rhône, the plant has spread across different regions in France. Up to 15 percent of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes could experience some level of allergic reaction from the plant, as it is highly allergenic, according to Anses.

It can also be found in Burgundy, Franche-Comté, New Aquitaine, Occitanie, as well as the north of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

However, in contrast, ragweed is typically neither found in the Northern and Western parts of the country, nor along the Mediterranean coast.

The high pollen counts are expected approximately one week early this year due to the high temperatures seasonal temperatures.

Ragweed pollen can cause runny noses, stinging eyes and even breathing difficulties in people with an allergy, said Samuel Monnier, engineer at the NASN, to BFMTV.

If you have a ragweed allergy, consider consulting a doctor or allergist to pre-empt or treat the symptoms, recommends Monnier. Residents in regions where the pollen count is high might also consider drying clothes inside rather than outside, in order to keep the pollen from sticking to clothing. 

The plant is considered particularly invasive, and many local authorities have put into place systems to remove it when spotted.  In order to report the presence of ragweed, you can go to the website or download the smartphone application “Signalement-Ambroisie.”

If you’re sensitive to pollen, you can keep up with the interactive pollen count maps across France by going to the website