Surgeons in France threaten UK 'exile'

1st August 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 1 (AFP) - The French government was struggling Sunday to reach a deal with up to 3,000 private practice surgeons who are threatening to go into "exile" for a week in Britain in protest at low pay and high insurance rates.

PARIS, Aug 1 (AFP) - The French government was struggling Sunday to reach a deal with up to 3,000 private practice surgeons who are threatening to go into "exile" for a week in Britain in protest at low pay and high insurance rates.

"The surgical profession in France is in danger. We must react quickly," Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in an interview published in the Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

"I have great hopes of reaching an agreement in the coming days. The climate is constructive," added the minister, who on Friday presented an emergency rescue plan in a bid to convince surgeons not to go on strike later this month.

Up to 3,000 French surgeons working in private practice have pledged to down scalpels and go to Britain from August 30 to September 5 in protest at low pay and skyrocketing insurance premiums.

The surgeons say their fees have not gone up in 15 years, while their insurance payments have increased tenfold - a rise they say is not justified by the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed.

The high costs have driven young French doctors away from the profession, sparking fears of a future shortfall.

They are planning a symbolic "exile" in Britain, as such a protest would shield them from a French law requiring them to report to work if requested.

Douste-Blazy's plan, which he said would cost less than EUR 80 million (USD 96.2 million), calls on insurance companies to freeze premiums for the next three years and urges a reconfiguration of the surgical fee scale.

It also provides for the creation of two crisis cells tasked with assessing the need to renovate operating rooms and improving training programs for up-and-coming surgeons.

"French surgery is not doing well, in that the average age of a surgeon is 55,"

Douste-Blazy told reporters on Saturday during a visit to the southern port city of Marseille.

"When I did my training, the best students in the class went into surgery. Today even the last ones in the class don't want to become surgeons," said the minister, who is a cardiologist.

After successfully shepherding through France's parliament a plan to overhaul the country's heavily indebted health insurance system, Douste-Blazy is hoping to avert a potentially embarrassing showdown with the surgeons.

Although France's health care system was once hailed as one of the world's best, it is operating at a massive deficit expected to hit EUR 12.9 billion this year.

It is also battling a poor public image after last year's deadly heat wave that claimed 15,000 lives, a disaster that an official report blamed on a lack of communication, organisation and advance planning.

But Philippe Cuq, one of the organisers of the planned surgeons' exile, said he was "disappointed" by the center-right government's rescue plan and that his "Surgeons of France" still intended to head across the Channel at month's end.

"The crisis is there. We needed a strong sign" from the government, Cuq told AFP, although he said talks were ongoing to resolve the standoff.

So why would French surgeons stage a protest in Britain?

"The English system does not treat all its patients equally and is facing a lack of personnel," Cuq told Le Monde newspaper.

"But the British government is taking decisions. While two years ago, English patients were coming to France for operations, now the English are recruiting French surgeons," he noted.

If the protest goes on as planned, the French surgeons say they are planning to invite British medical recruitment agencies to their seminars in order to "present their ideas".© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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