System at the limit: desperately looking for free beds in children's hospitals

Overcrowded patient rooms, stays in the emergency room for days, sick babies being transferred to hospitals more than 100 kilometers away: the current wave of respiratory infections is pushing children’s hospitals in Germany to their limits.

System at the limit: desperately looking for free beds in children's hospitals

Overcrowded patient rooms, stays in the emergency room for days, sick babies being transferred to hospitals more than 100 kilometers away: the current wave of respiratory infections is pushing children’s hospitals in Germany to their limits. The German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) speaks of a "catastrophic situation" in the children's intensive care units.

If a newly resuscitated infant is admitted to a children's hospital that is actually full, a three-year-old has to wait there for the third day in a row for his urgently needed heart operation.

Fewer and fewer children's hospital beds

The doctors' association wants to present the latest figures and findings from a current survey of children's hospitals in Hamburg today. According to the doctors, a wave of infections with the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can be expected every year starting in autumn. However, there are fewer and fewer children's hospital beds available, as Divi General Secretary Florian Hoffmann explained yesterday in the ZDF "Morgenmagazin". Due to the lack of nursing staff, a large proportion of the beds in the wards cannot be operated at all.

Because all the beds were full, for example, a child was moved from the Hannover Medical School (MHH) to Magdeburg on Friday night, a distance of around 150 kilometers. "My colleagues called 21 clinics," reports Gesine Hansen, Medical Director of the MHH Clinic for Pediatric Pneumology, Allergology and Neonatology. The approximately one-year-old child had an RSV infection, which can be life-threatening, especially for the youngest and children with previous illnesses.

However, Hansen emphasizes that no children in very poor health would be transferred. Then a child who is better off must be transferred in his place.

According to Divi, hardly any clinic has had a free cot or free children's intensive care bed in the past few days. "Children have to stay in the emergency room for days," says Hoffmann. Or stations would have to be overcrowded.

Children's clinic manager: "We are at the breaking point"

The peak of the current wave of respiratory infections in children has not yet been reached, Hoffmann told the newspapers of the Funke media group. "The situation in practices and clinics will get worse in the coming weeks."

"We're at the breaking point," says Matthias Keller, head of the Children's Hospital of the Third Order in Passau. The rooms are often double occupied. In some cases, monitors for monitoring the children and devices for respiratory support were missing. "Some patient rooms are like beds, you really have to crawl over the beds to get to the sick child because the parents' bed is next to the patient's bed," says Keller, who is also chairman of the Southern German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), there are an estimated 5.6 severe cases of RSV respiratory diseases per 1000 children in their first year of life worldwide. Normally, 50 to 70 percent would have had at least one infection with RSV within the first year of life and almost all children by the end of the second year of life. In the course of the corona protection measures, however, many such infections were temporarily absent. Are the hospitals now at the limit because girls and boys had few contacts during the Corona period and are now catching up on infections?

Speaker: "Politics are responsible for this"

The pediatricians do not see the pandemic as the primary cause of the sometimes dramatic situation in the clinics. "Politics are responsible for the fact that children's lives are in danger at the moment," says Jakob Maske, spokesman for the professional association of paediatricians. In the past, completely different economic criteria were applied to paediatrics, i.e. paediatrics. "Now medicine must be profitable, not cure diseases, but make money."

A wave of infection usually lasts six to eight weeks. Not only in Bavaria, Lower Saxony and Berlin, but also in North Rhine-Westphalia, clinics report a "maximum tense situation". In addition to the RSV wave, the Düsseldorf university clinic is also experiencing a flu wave in its young patients, which “primarily causes children up to primary school age a massive problem,” said university clinic spokesman Tobias Pott.

Families "camp" in the emergency room

In the Rhineland, "all the beds are completely full" at times, says Jörg Dötsch, President of the German Society for Child and Adolescent Medicine. Six to seven hours of waiting in the emergency room are not uncommon. "It's very uncomfortable when children and their families have to camp out in the emergency room," says Dötsch, who is also the director of the clinic for pediatric and adolescent medicine at the University Hospital in Cologne. But Dötsch does not want to talk about disaster medicine: "We don't have to decide about life and death."

At the conference of their specialist society in Hamburg, the intensive care physicians and intensive care workers also advise on possible solutions in the crisis. According to Divi General Secretary Hoffmann, emergency plans can help in the short term. The Auf der Bult children's hospital in Hanover, for example, has already set up a task force.

Hoffmann, who is also senior physician at Dr. from the Hauner Children's Hospital of the University of Munich. Above all, however, much more staff must be trained for childcare. "We have to strengthen care. We only have a chance if we do that."

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