As Public Hospitals Crumble, French Health Workers Demand Action
France – On September 22, Thursday, health workers and those working in associated sectors in France organized mobilizations and protests as part of a national day of action in different cities across the country. The protesters demanded increased salaries, more staff, improved and safe working conditions, job security, and sufficient funds and other resources for hospitals. The call for the mobilization was given by several groups in health sector, including the Association des Médecins Urgentistes de France (AMUF), CGT Santé Action Sociale, the CFE CGC Santé-Social, Printemps de la psychiatrie and Collectif Inter-Urgences. Mobilizations took place in the cities of Paris, Marseille, Nancy, Tours, Poitiers, Angers, Lille, and Nantes, among others. The French Communist Party (PCF) and La France Insoumise (LFI) extended support and solidarity to the protesting workers.
According to reports, the public health sector in France has been facing a serious crisis marked by an acute shortage of resources including staff, necessary infrastructure and funds. Even before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in the country, health workers had organized mobilizations flagging these issues. The COVID-19 crisis only worsened the situation. French President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms and measures such as ‘Ségur de la santé’ (consultation process in health sector) and ‘Ma santé 2022’ or ‘My health 2022’ haven’t yielded much benefits for the health sector and workers. Meanwhile, the ongoing cost of living crisis, marked by skyrocketing fuel and food prices, has also affected health workers.
In July, Damien Maudet and Nathalie Oziol, who are deputies from the left-wing New Ecological and Social People’s Union (NUPES) coalition, launched a campaign “#Alloségur, the deputies in hospitals.” They were part of a commission of inquiry which collected testimonies from the health workers in public hospitals. Workers revealed that they are physically and psychologically exhausted, and paid less than what is required to keep up with inflation. The hospitals lack enough beds and many key posts remain vacant. Services have been slashed, emergency rooms are closed, and more workers are leaving the public sector to join private hospitals.
In recent times, there have also been reports of delays in treatment in public hospitals which have even led to deaths. Earlier this week, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) made a public announcement denouncing the terrible work conditions at the Nantes University Hospital. According to reports, on September 1, at the New Civil Hospital (NHC) of Strasbourg, an 81-year-old man died after spending about 20 hours on a stretcher in the emergency room.
While participating in the health workers’ protest on September 22, emergency physician and LFI regional Councilor in Ile de France Dr. Christophe Prudhomme told the media, “In the midst of the health crisis, Macron has taken away another 5,700 hospital beds. This translates into deaths. As a doctor, I support the family of the patient who died in Strasbourg after waiting 22 hours on a stretcher in the hallway.”
On September 15, Dr. Prudhomme alleged that nearly 2,000 nursing posts were vacant in Assistance Publique–Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP) and 20-30% of operating rooms were closed.
“What is the minister doing? He’s offering us a media show called “stakeholders conference”! Enough of this. The needs of the staff are well known. We demand concrete answers in an urgent debate in parliament to stop the collapse of our health system,” said Dr. Prudhomme.
Mireille Stivala, Secretary General of CGT Health and Social Action, said that “regarding recruitment, there is no real will and we need a multidisciplinary recruitment plan. When we set up hiring offices in front of hospitals, we collected resumes… It is also necessary to offer real contracts to students by paying them at least the equivalent of the Smic (legal minimum hourly wage).”
The CGT estimated that the public hospitals need to recruit 100,000 staff and residential facilities for dependent elderly people (EHPAD) need 200,000 more staff. Health workers have also given a call to join a national inter-professional mobilization called by the CGT, demanding an increase in wages and purchasing power.