Chamonix is undoubtedly the world capital of alpinism, even if the “voie normale” of the 4807 meter Mont Blanc is from the top of the cog railway at St Gervais. But the closure of the hospital operating theatre on the 14th of December 2001 complicates treatment for skiers and climbers involved in a serious accidents.
The closure follows that of the maternity ward (probably of more use to English chalet girls!) and is part of general cutbacks in the cash strapped French health service.
From the viewpoint of a desk in Lyon closing Chamonix hospital, once the pride of the valley, and sending the injured down the valley to Sallanches or even Annecy seems to make perfect sense. However it should be remembered that search and rescue for the entire Mont Blanc massif is organised around the hospital, located in the village of les Péllerins. The large hospital is now little more than a shell housing a casualty department but without surgical or anaesthetic facilities and limited equipment for reanimation the doctors can do little more than administer first aid before a helicopter transfer to Sallanches or, during the foggy winter months a 30 minute ambulance ride. 30 minutes that may mean the difference between life and death for injured mountaineers.
It seems strange that a major outdoor sports centre such as Chamonix, with its large international clientele, often well covered by foreign or private health insurances, can’t support a surgical facility. If there is another disaster such as the 1999 Montroc Avalanche or Tunnel Fire one wonders how the valley’s health services would cope.