Transfers of Covid-19 patients test Swiss federalism 

The second wave of the pandemic is putting intensive care units under pressure especially in French-speaking parts of Switzerland. Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Hard-hit hospitals in French-speaking Lausanne and Geneva have transferred some intensive care coronavirus patients to German-speaking regions, but not without some tension between the cantons. 

This content was published on November 6, 2020 - 10:00

Geneva University Hospital (HUG) transferred two patients to Zurich and one to Bern so as to guarantee quality care for them, the HUG said on Thursday. These patients were transported in helicopters by the air rescue service Rega under a mandate from the health services coordinating body SSCExternal link.  

This comes after the University Hospital in Lausanne (CHUV) transferred two Covid-19 patients to Bern on Wednesday. The French-speaking region of Switzerland has so far been harder hit by the second wave of the pandemic than the German speaking region. 

The SSC recommends that before increasing normal capacity, overstretched Swiss hospitals should transfer patients to hospitals elsewhere in the country that still have enough beds and staff to take them. 

However, there has been friction between the hospitals in different cantons, with Zurich University Hospital initially reluctant to take the Geneva patients, reports Swiss national broadcaster RTS. This prompted a somewhat angry appeal for inter-cantonal solidarity by Health Minister Alain Berset on Wednesday. 

RTS says Zurich’s initial stance is not an isolated case and that the cantonal hospital in Fribourg has also complained of tensions with hospitals in Zurich and Bern. The CHUV, on the other hand, says its patient transfers to Bern on Wednesday went “perfectly smoothly”. 

Given the rise in patient transfers, administrators of the five Swiss university hospitals held a videoconference on Thursday to establish better coordination. 

Zurich hospitals react

Zurich hospitals on Friday rejected criticisms, saying canton Zurich has enough capacity to take coronavirus patients and that it is not currently necessary to postpone non-urgent interventions. The Zurich hospitals association VZK was responding to Berset’s criticism on Wednesday that hospitals continuing to carry out non-urgent operations were endangering capacities for treating coronavirus patients.

The VKZ also referred to the financial hole caused by a ban on non-urgent medical interventions during the first partial lockdown in spring, saying the federal government did not want to pay any compensation for this, and the Zurich cantonal government was also only prepared to cover a small part of the losses.

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