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"Flying doctors": an air link to combat medical desertification

Big problems, big solutions. To tackle the shortage of doctors in the Nièvre region, the mayor of Nevers has decided to set up a medical airlift. This link with Dijon's CHU is intended to bring medical professionals to the Centre Hospitalier de l'agglomération de Nevers on a weekly basis. Although fiercely criticized by environmentalists, the Flying Doctors initiative is based on solid arguments for meeting the needs of a population faced with medical desertification.
Published on June 29, 2023

This airlift to combat medical deserts is a national first

The mayor of Nevers, Denis Thuriot, announced this unusual project in November 2022.

"For the time being, it's the only answer to medical desertification" he says.

The Nevers hospital is chronically understaffed. There is a regular shortage of between 20 and 50 doctors and 10 to 35 nurses. To deal with this staff shortage, Denis Thuriot decided to innovate and persevere, despite a highly controversial reception for his initiative.

As the Nevers hospital was administratively attached to the Dijon CHU, it was simply a matter of eliminating the problem of travel time to bring in Dijon-based carers on a regular basis.

Initially scheduled for the spring, the first rotation of flying doctors finally took place on January 26, in response to the enthusiasm of the doctors at Dijon University Hospital.

On that day, eight medical professionals volunteered to experiment with the 35-minute flight to Nevers for a day's consultation. A cardiologist, a pneumologist, a specialist in maxillofacial surgery, two general practitioners, an orthopedist, a nuclear physician and an obstetrician-gynecologist, whose "appointment books were full", said Denis Thuriot.

A complex equation between public health and ecology

This measure has not been well received by everyone, residents and local councillors alike. Disagreement centered on the ecological impact, but also on the cost of the flyover, especially if it were to become a regular occurrence.

Yet this is a complex situation. To get from Nevers to Dijon, it's almost 3 hours by road and an average of 2 hours 15 minutes by train. If it's not the specialists who travel to the Pierre Bérégovoy Hospital, it's the patients who travel individually to the Dijon University Hospital. In this way, the air link reduces the number of car journeys. As for the train, the line between the two towns is due to undergo work for over six months, resulting in major section closures.

The mayor of Nevers believes that this controversy surrounding airplane-bashing has no raison d'être, especially since "planes take off every morning with businessmen and no one hears a word".

On the subject of cost, Denis Thuriot, who is also Chairman of the hospital's Board of Directors, points out that the airlift could actually save the hospital money. The cost of a round trip per passenger, around €670, is much lower than a day's replacement by a temporary doctor, at around €3,000.

Wilfrid Séjeau, Vice-Chairman of the Europe Ecologie Les Verts (EELV) party, has this to say on the subject: "If this solution proves truly effective, I'm ready to accept it", because "we mustn't pit ecology against public health".