Paris: Doctor Ruxandra Divan, an intensive care anaesthetist in eastern France, slumped down onto her haunches against a wall of her department, exhausted by the prospect of tackling a new COVID-19 wave with a depleted staff.
“It’s the tiredness,” said Divan on Wednesday, mid-way through her shift at the Colmar Hospital, near France’s border with Germany and Switzerland. “People are fed up of dealing with patients who aren’t vaccinated. We are really tired.”
Healthcare systems across Europe are facing up to more COVID-19 admissions, with infection rates accelerating, and the added uncertainty of how the new Omicron variant will affect public health.
In the city of Colmar, the task is made harder because the teams who must tackle the new wave are depleted by large numbers on sick leave, by people quitting, and by the low morale of those who remain.
In her office, Doctor Elisabeth Gaertner, who runs the intensive care service for Colmar’s public hospital system, reviews her list of people who are on sick leave: 4 out of 20 care assistants, 5 out of 15 cleaners, 5 out of 37 nurses in surgical intensive care.
Other staff have quit, many of them lured away to work in private clinics, or in nearby Switzerland, for better pay and less taxing hours.
One factor alienating staff, she said, was that the vast majority of the most serious cases they had to treat in the latest wave were people who chose not to get vaccinated. “There’s a feeling of anger and frustration,” among hospital staff, said Gaertner.
The healthcare system across France is feeling the cumulative strain of nearly two years of pandemic.
France’s Scientific Council, which advises the government on COVID-19, said in an Oct. 5 report that the healthcare system “has been rendered fragile after this long period of COVID, where it has been constantly in the front line.”