In the midst of planned reforms of its healthcare system, France is facing an uphill battle, struggling with troubling issues involving medical personnel and supplies. From staff shortages to protests, hospitals have scrambled to respond to the unrest.
French healthcare at risk
In recent weeks, France has been rocked by protests and strikes by doctors, who fighting for better wages and working conditions, despite the combination of COVID-19, flu and bronchiolitis plaguing the nation, Anadolu Agency reported.
Despite having more doctors and nurses per head of population than the UK, around half of French doctors are already nearing retirement, being above the age of 55 — much less than that of the UK which is at around 15 percent. Younger medics have been toiled by mounting professional and financial pressures.
According to the BBC, while the causes of the crisis are complicated, both the mounting “pressure of an aging population” and the lack of medical staff were cited as major factors.
With shortages of staff and supplies, wintertime illnesses have led to an increasing number of patients, leaving many to wait agonizing times in emergency departments. One diabetes nurse, Lina Nejjari, at Gonesse Hospital told Anadolu Agency that patients would have to wait for around five to 10 hours to get seen.
“150 people died in December in emergency units as they didn’t get treatment in time,” another doctor told Anadolu Agency.
“One medical intern commits suicide every week in France,” he added. “France currently needs 60,000 nurses, while 180,000 others quit the healthcare sector because they couldn’t take it anymore.”
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Practitioners up in arms
At some hospitals, around 90 percent of their staff went on “sick leave protests” as conditions worsened, followed by an “unlimited walkout” by France’s second-largest health union the previous week.
“I made this choice [to be a GP (general practitioner)] but now I have a lot of questions about my future,” practitioner Julia Venturini told the BBC. “We’re all in the same boat, and the boat is now like the Titanic. When the emergency services go down, the GPs go down, and the hospitals go down — the health system in France is really cracking.
“I’m worried as a future doctor, but I’m worried as a patient too,” she added.
According to the National Order of Nurses, around 40 percent of working nurses wish to resign from their roles, even after the government provided 12 billion euros (US$13 billion) a year for hospital workers’ salaries.
“The salaries are a little higher than before,” Pauline Dubar, who works for a medical helpline, told the BBC. “But for a decent salary, you have to work nights and weekends, and that ends up exhausting people in the long term.”
In addition to staffing issues, medicinal supplies are also running out, with paracetamol and children’s antibiotics being especially hard to find.
French Health Minister Francois Braun told France 2 last week that it is getting harder to acquire supplies due to increasing demand. Demands for paracetamol shot up to 13 percent during the flu epidemic, he added.
French president Emmanuel Macron said on Jan. 13 that the country’s health system could get worse before there could be any good developments. He announced that he would change how hospitals receive funds, and how doctors can be relieved from exhausting administration.
Large signing bonuses of up to 50,000 euros in less developed areas, and the removal of the limit of medical students in France have been unsuccessful in solving issues within the healthcare system.