Emergency doctors in Germany say the pediatric intensive care system is close to collapse. With COVID-19 restrictions largely eased, rates of a common but potentially fatal childhood disease have soared.
German doctors are warning that a surge in pediatric infections and a shortage of staff mean the country is critically short of intensive care beds for children.
The warning was raised by the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) after a survey revealed the extent of the bed shortages.
It found that, in pediatric intensive care units, there were on average only 0.75 free beds per hospital — less than one per site.
Of the 110 hospitals that were surveyed, 43 facilities also had no vacant beds available for children in their ordinary wards.
One in two hospitals surveyed said they had to turn away a child in the past 24 hours after a request from the ambulance service or emergency department.
"This is a catastrophic situation, there is no other way to describe it," said DIVI General Secretary Florian Hoffmann. "We, therefore, demand the immediate optimization of working conditions in the children's hospitals, the establishment of telemedical networks between the pediatric facilities and the establishment of specialized children's intensive care transport systems. We have to act now."
Why is RSV a threat?
RSV (or respiratory syncytial virus) is among many viruses that cause illnesses of the nose, throat and lungs.
It usually spreads from late autumn through to early spring. Almost all children catch RSV at least once before they are 2 years old and, for most healthy children, the symptoms are no more severe than a cold. However, some children get very sick with RSV.
"The RSV wave continues to build up and makes treatment with respiratory support necessary for many children," said Sebastian Brenner, head of the pediatric intensive care unit at University Hospital Dresden.
Health minister promises help
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach urged support measures for the acutely overburdened sector.
He announced that the government would ease some regulations to make it easier to transfer nurses to pediatric units and provide an additional €600 million ($630 million) to pediatric hospitals over the next two years.