How Germany plans to revamp emergency care to beat hospital overcrowding

Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn wants to overhaul medical care to take the pressure off hospitals and reduce emergency room waiting times. Here's how the proposals are shaping up.

How Germany plans to revamp emergency care to beat hospital overcrowding
Signs pointing to the emergency rooms in Munich. Photo: DPA

In a bid to stop overcrowding in emergency rooms across the country, Spahn is submitting a draft bill that would see a complete reorganization of emergency medical care

According to Funke media group reports on Monday, the draft bill provides for all federal states to introduce emergency telephone control centres. In addition, special emergency centres are to be set up at hospitals where patients are sent either to inpatient or outpatient treatment depending on the severity of their illness.

Spahn had presented the main features of the reform last December but the proposals are now taking shape.

“At present, the emergency rooms of hospitals are too often overcrowded, because – among the patients – there are also those who could be better helped elsewhere,” said the Minister. Often doctor practices in Germany are closed after-hours or on weekends.

As a result, waiting times are often too long for patients who urgently need help in the accident and emergency departments.

READ ALSO: Doctor practices should be open later and on weekends

The draft law provides for the emergency number 112 to be connected with the non-emergency out-of-hours doctor numbers 116 and 117.

Emergency control centre staff will then assess who should go to hospital and who can be helped by a doctor.

In addition, all hospitals nationwide should have “Integrated Emergency Centres” (Integrierte Notfallzentren or INZ) operated jointly by the clinics and the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians.

After an initial assessment, patients would either be sent immediately to the emergency room or treated on an outpatient basis.

According to the bill, the emergency centres should be “accessible at all times” and “integrated into a hospital in such a way” that patients “perceive them as the first point of contact in an emergency”.

READ ALSO: How Germany plans to fight its drastic shortage of care workers


Emergency room/accident and emergency – (die) Notaufnahme

Health Minister – (der) Gesundheitsminister

Draft bill – (der) Gesetzentwurf

Overcrowded – Überlaufen

Waiting times – (die) Wartezeiten

Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians – (die) Kassenärztliche Vereinigungen

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Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination.