French health staff strike over funding

22nd January 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 22 (AFP) - Doctors and hospital workers in France staged a one-day strike to demand more state funding Thursday, as the government moved ahead with plans to overhaul the heavily indebted social security system.

PARIS, Jan 22 (AFP) - Doctors and hospital workers in France staged a one-day strike to demand more state funding Thursday, as the government moved ahead with plans to overhaul the heavily indebted social security system.

Seven unions called for a day of stoppages, workers' assemblies and demonstrations to protest against "the lack of resources and degradation of working conditions" in the health sector. Hospital services were not significantly affected, officials said.

In Paris several thousand people marched from Montparnasse station to the ministry of health, where a delegation was to hold a meeting with officials. A group of demonstrators pushed a skeleton in a wheel-chair bearing a mask of President Jacques Chirac.

Though ranked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as among the best systems in the world, France's health service is in fact in deepening trouble, hampered by a massive budget deficit, acute job shortages, poor accounting and endemic over-prescription.

Last summer's heatwave which killed 15,000 elderly people exposed its inadequacies, and since then there have been further minor crises such as a shortage of beds in a bronchitis outbreak in early December, and a super-virus which killed 18 people in hospitals in northern France.

Thursday's action was directed at a plan put in place by Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei dubbed "Hospital 2007," in which an investment of EUR 6 billion (USD 7.6 billion) is to be matched by management reform and a new emphasis on cost assessment.

"We are afraid that the reform will end with the dismantling of the public hospital service ... We will finish with an accountancy-based rationalisation of the hospital, which is harmful," said Patrick Pelloux, president of the Association of Emergency Hospital Doctors (AMUHF).

The protests came as the government prepared to receive a report Friday from a committee of experts appointed in October to propose ways of reforming the social security system - in which the health sector is by far the biggest and most expensive part.

Government economists rang the alarm last year, warning that the system's deficit - currently nearly EUR 11 billion - will rise to EUR 29 billion by 2010 without a major overhaul.

The High Council for the future of health insurance, consisting of health professionals, unions, government officials and insurers, was expected to suggest that structural reform and more responsible patterns of consumption by the public are the best ways of cutting costs.

French people contribute to a compulsory health insurance scheme which automatically reimburses most of their expenses, but the generosity of the system encourages over-usage and the public has grown accustomed to getting whatever treatment it demands.

Despite efforts to remove some so-called comfort drugs from the reimbursement list, some 21 percent of France's health spending still goes on pharmaceuticals, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - far above the average in member states.

The centre-right government has blamed chronic manpower shortages in the health sector on the last Socialist government's controversial 35 hour week.

This created alarming gaps in work rosters without sufficient numbers of qualified nurses and ancillary staff to fill the breach.

© AFP

                                Subject: France news

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