French state-of-the-art mobile hospital frees-up beds for Covid-19 patients in southwest

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A unique mobile hospital, developed at Toulouse City Hospital, has taken up its first posting in Bayonne public hospital in south west France where it will free up beds for Covid-19 patients.

The mobile hospital known as “Shelter” looks like any other large 18-tonne lorry, but once stationed folds out to make an 80 square metre space, fully equipped to deal with any form of emergency care.

The unit contains18 beds: eight for emergency treatment and 10 for patients in a more stabilised condition. Crucially, it can be set up by four people in under half an hour.

“It’s a unique device,” said professor Vincent Bounes, the brains behind the field hospital, and who was inspired by similar mobile units he had seen in the US equipped with army technology used in man-made and natural disasters.

“It’s a quick mobile unit so you need a maximum of 30 minutes to deploy it, which was very important. Also it’s completely autonomous, containing everything needed for treating a patient: its own water supply, energy, oxygen, drugs, equipment, beds and so on.”

Covid crisis

Bounes began developing Shelter with his Samu team three years ago and benefited from funding from EGALURG – a European cooperation network to improve healthcare in isolated communities, emergencies and disasters on both sides of the Pyrenees.

"It's a three year programme and we're very proud of it," said Bounes. "I hope it will be of great value to the hospital and the patients."

The first hospital to use Shelter is in Bayonne, in the Pyrenees region. The mobile unit will be used to treat emergencies such as strokes or heart attacks, freeing up as much space as possible for Covid admissions.

“We are currently in a tense period,” Dr Tarak Mokni told Sudouest online. “We need a place for non-Covid-related emergencies so that we can continue to welcome Covid patients in the right conditions.”

“We are under pressure but the situation is under control; we called on this mobile unit to make sure we could carry on keeping things under control,” he said.

ICUs under strain

There are now more than 32,000 Covid patients in hospitals in France, Prime Minister Jean Castex told a news briefing on Thursday. A new Covid-19 case was admitted to hospital every 30 seconds and one into intensive care every three minutes.

France’s ICU wards are operating at 90 percent of their capacity before the crisis, Castex said.

On a slightly more positive note, he added there were early signs that the Covid-19 figures were tapering slightly, with the number of infections down around 16 percent this week compared to their level at the end of October.

“Our lockdown strategy [...] seems to be producing the expected results,” he stated, although he ruled out ending the current lockdown measures before 1 December.