Despite criticism over the environmental impact, an airlift of caregivers was set up Thursday between the city of Dijon in central-eastern France and the neighboring department of Nièvre, a medical desert.
Eight “flying doctors” arrived in Nevers shortly before 9 a.m. in a light drizzle and bitter cold before moving into the hospital in the capital of Nièvre, which has a population of 200,000. They were to return to Dijon that same evening.
This “airlift” is expected to connect Nevers to the regional capital, Dijon, at least once a week in 35 minutes, compared to almost three hours by car or two and a half hours by train.
“The plane is the best way to reduce delays,” while Nevers hospital is “the most distant departmental hospital” in France from a university hospital, explained the Mayor of Nevers and President of the city’s Hospital Center (CH), Denis Thuriot.
Pulmonologists, oncologists or other gynecologists are destined for the CH, where, according to Patrick Bertrand, President of the Medical Commission of the hospital center, there is a lack of “about fifty doctors and at least 35 nurses”.
But the small eight-seater, single-engine vehicle also transported two family doctors from SOS Médecins. “We will set up a structure” that does not currently exist in Nièvre, family doctor Romain Thévenoud told AFP.
“Our goal is to provide better care for the population,” explained CH director Jean-François Segovia. “The medical density in Nièvre fell by 21% between 2012 and 2022. We have 68 doctors per 100,000 inhabitants compared to an average of 121 in France. There is no dermatologist, only one rheumatologist, one allergist… 20% of patients do not have a treating doctor”.
Medical flights are “a palliative tool while waiting to attract young doctors,” believes Pierre Trouilloud. The traumatologist at the Dijon University Hospital has been coming to Nevers every month for his consultations for 25 years and has to drive six hours to do so. He now wants to come by plane “every two weeks”.
The airlift has costs that will be borne by the hospital, but it will actually “save money,” assures Mr. Thuriot. “It costs 670 euros for a return trip per passenger,” while an interim doctor can charge up to “3,000 euros a day,” calculates the mayor.
However, the measure was met with criticism from environmentalists. “A plane journey emits 1,500 times more greenhouse gases than a train journey,” complains Sylvie Dupart-Muzerelle, councilor EELV (ecologist) of Nevers, who denounces “a slap in the face” at a time when “Europe is about to abolish the inland confirms flights in France if there is an alternative by train in less than 2h30′. However, this measure does not apply to private flights such as Dijon-Nevers.
“We must not oppose ecology to public health,” however, nuanced Wilfrid Séjeau, vice-president of the EELV of the departmental council, who sits on the nevers hospital board of directors. “If this solution proves to be really effective, I am ready to accept it,” he told AFP news agency.
“No, it’s not crazy. This corresponds to a need, ”defends the mayor of Nevers. “Let’s stop plane bashing. Planes take off with business people every morning and you don’t hear anyone yelling,” he adds. “It will help the Nivernais, who have the shortest life expectancy in the region.”
The establishment of a medical flight “appears all the more necessary as the rail connection between Nevers and Dijon will be interrupted for at least seven months from July for construction work,” reminds AFP the socialist president of Nièvre, Fabien Bazin.