Germany’s child protection agency, the Deutsche Kinderschutzbund, called on Saturday for a “rapid emergency financial plan” to help hospitals deal with a wave of severe respiratory infections among young people.
Children’s wards across Germany have been overwhelmed in recent weeks with cases of the highly contagious human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that infects babies and young children.
Doctors warned this week that RSV has left the pediatric intensive care system on the verge of collapse due to a lack of beds and specialized staff.
Shortage of pediatric staff
The agency’s president, Heinz Hilgers, said he was “really shocked” that the situation in German hospitals had deteriorated so quickly, describing the shortage of pediatric health care staff as “very dramatic”.
In an interview with Redaktionsnetzwerk Germany (RND), which provides content to more than 60 German newspapers across the country, he blamed “decades of neglect” by politicians for the lack of skilled workers.
“Unfortunately, these issues have not been addressed because the healthcare system is purely business-oriented and designed to operate at full capacity,” he added.
Hilgers said the shortage likely won’t be overcome anytime soon and called for more financial help for hospitals.
“Children’s hospitals need to have beds ready in both regular wards and intensive care units so that they are ready for emergencies of this type,” he said.
Lack of beds, rejected patients
On Friday, a survey by the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) revealed the extent of the bed shortage.
It found that, in pediatric intensive care units, there was on average less than one free bed per hospital.
Of the 110 hospitals surveyed, 43 facilities also did not have vacant beds available for children in their regular wards.
One in two hospitals surveyed said they had to turn away a child in the last 24 hours even though the patient was referred from the ambulance service or emergency department.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach admitted this week that Germany has fewer than 100 intensive care beds available nationwide for children.
Aid package worth 600 million euros
On Friday, Germany’s lower house of parliament approved a package of measures worth 600 million euros ($630 million) over two years aimed at boosting the finances of children’s medical treatment.
The plan will see nurses transferred from adult to children’s wards to alleviate staffing shortages.
The government also asked hospitals to postpone less urgent operations.
COVID lockdowns kept RSV at bay
Germany is one of 20 European countries recording an increasing number of RSV cases since October.
A common and highly contagious virus, RSV infects almost all infants and young children before the age of 2, some of whom can become seriously ill.
The virus, and others, have rebounded this year after COVID-19 lockdowns, mask-wearing and other social distancing measures prevented it from spreading so easily.
RSV typically spreads from late fall to early spring and can severely affect the elderly as well.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, last month authorized the world’s first single-dose drug against RSV.
mm/wmr (DPA, epd)