French bronchiolitis crisis highlights staff shortages

A bronchiolitis epidemic impacting infants and children is ripping through France, putting increased strain on the overburdened and understaffed health sector.

Last week, nearly 7,000 infants, of whom 90% are below one year old, checked in at accidents and emergencies (A&E) – a 24% jump from the previous week. During the same period, hospital admissions based on appointments also surged by 53%.

There are “too many patients arriving at A&E all over the country today, but too few staff to give adequate care”, Rémi Salomon, a paediatrician, told public radio station France Inter on Wednesday.

Not only is the bronchiolitis epidemic spreading fast, but “the overall number of staff has been reduced, and working conditions have become unbearable,” Salomon added. There is no need to prioritise patients, but lacking resources is more striking than ever.

Bronchiolitis is a viral respiratory infection that causes the inflammation of infants’ bronchioles and, in some cases, can be fatal.

Doctors and nurses have warned of a risk of an unmanageable epidemic for over a month. First published on 21 October, an open letter to French President Emmanuel Macron has now gathered over 7,000 signatories. The letter warns that “paediatric intensive care units throughout France are saturated” and condemns “the blatant deterioration in the care provided to children, putting them at risk daily”.

An emergency plan was activated on Tuesday by all hospitals in the Paris region to optimise staff resources. It follows an initial plan triggered over two weeks ago by Health Minister François Braun – which has so far failed to effectively mitigate the spread of the virus.

On Monday, Braun also announced an additional €543 million for publicly-run hospitals, notably due to additional COVID-19 costs that had not been addressed in previous budget iterations.

The European Commission approved a preventive treatment for bronchiolitis, Nirsevimab, in early November “for the prevention of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in infants”, said the French pharmaceutical group Sanofi, treatment co-developer with AstraZeneca.

(Theo Bourgery-Gonse |


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