French doctors kick off Christmas strike
French doctors went on strike Tuesday in protest at an upcoming health bill, prompting fears that hospitals already bracing for a busy Christmas period will be seriously overrun.
Three unions have called on general practitioners to close shop in protest at certain aspects of the bill, which notably will allow pharmacists to vaccinate patients -- an act that is currently almost exclusively reserved for doctors.
The bill also wants to set up a system whereby patients will no longer have to be reimbursed retroactively for their doctors' visit, with social security directly paying GPs instead, prompting fears of payment delays.
According to Claude Leicher, head of MG France, one of the unions calling the strike, between 80 and 100 percent of GPs are expected to follow the work stoppage.
And on Wednesday, another powerful GPs and specialists union -- the CSMF -- has also called on its members to go on strike until December 31, worsening the situation at a time of festive excesses and prevalent flu and gastroenteritis.
As such, hospitals are bracing for an influx of patients who would normally have consulted on-duty doctors, on top of those who usually flock to emergency rooms.
At the best of times, the average waiting time in Paris emergency rooms is close to four hours.
The situation had initially been expected to be much worse, as overworked ER doctors had also planned to go on strike to demand better overtime pay and fewer hours.
But that planned work stoppage was cut short after successful negotiations with the government.
© 2014 AFP