FRANCE: SNCF has started transporting Covid-19 patients using a TGV Duplex trainset that has been has adapted as a mobile hospital unit. It is being used to evacuate recuperating patients from hot spot areas where the hospitals are saturated to regions which have spare capacity in their intensive care facilities.
Described by Minister of Health Olivier Véran as ‘a first for Europe’, the train was first deployed on March 26 to move 20 patients from the Grand Est region to Pays de Loire, the French region least affected by the pandemic. The patients were collected by ambulance from hospitals in Strasbourg and Mulhouse, and will be taken to teaching hospitals in Angers, Nantes, Le Mans and La Roche-sur-Yon.
According to SNCF President Jean-Pierre Farandou, the double-deck trainset can carry up to 25 patients. There is provision for four people in each trailer car, where the stretchers are supported above the seats, which have not been removed. Each vehicle has a six-strong medical team, comprising an anesthetist, a junior doctor, a nurse anesthetist and three nurses. The buffet car has been adapted as a ‘medical space’ in case the condition of a patient deteriorates en route.
The onboard medical teams have been drawn from the Paris hospitals public assistance service and regional hospitals in Nantes and Angers, under the co-ordination of the Paris-based Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente, which has an established co-operation arrangement with SNCF. The TGV carries a double strength crew, with two drivers and additional onboard staff.
Transport Minister Jean-Baptise Djebarri said SNCF would also be making available overnight train stock for use by the medical services if required.
Last year, SNCF and the Paris SAMU undertook a joint exercise to test the concept of a mobile rail hospital in the event of a pandemic or terrorist attack. On May 21-22 2019, 400 people took part in Exercise Chardon, which simulated the transfer to Paris of seriously injured victims from a supposed terrorist attack in Metz. ‘We took the example of a terrorist attack but the same approach could be used for pandemics or technological disasters’, the head of SAMU Paris Professor Pierre Carli told local media at the time.