Specialist doctors will now be joining general practitioners who are already set to strike between 24th and 31st December in protest at France's controversial new healthcare bill.
Practitioners including cardiologists, paediatricians and ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists decided on Wednesday to join the industrial action against the bill, due to be debated at the National Assembly in early 2015.
Jean-Paul Ortiz, president of the Confederation of French Medical Unions told Europe 1: “Both specialists and GPs have had enough, because they are not represented in this bill."
According to Ortiz, doctors are unhappy with the proposed compulsory third-party payments – which would see doctors bill the state and private insurance companies for patients' visits rather than the patients paying up front themselves, as happens now.
He said: "This is an expensive process that will take up their time. More generally, doctors are seeing a breaking up of their profession, which we have seen with the suggestion that certain vaccinations be carried out by pharmacists."
Ortiz rejected the idea the doctors were going on strike just to take a holiday over the Christmas period.
“We are giving the government two months to open negotiations to review the whole system. This is not a holiday strike, it's a strike which is giving the government time to engage in a real dialogue with physicians," he said.
If 75 percent of medical practices are to be closed over the strike period, the law requires that a system for emergency care be put in place. Another doctors' union, MG France, has called for strike action on 6th January – a traditional public holiday.
The bill comes amid planned cuts of around €10 billion over the next three years by France’s national healthcare insurance system, the "Assurance Maladie".
It was announced in October by French Health Minister Marisol Touraine and sets out a raft of measures that have been angrily received by doctors, including the establishment of a territorial public health department controlled by regional health authorities.
Another controversial inclusion is the capping of the base rate for the consultation fee, which has stayed at €23 since 2011 (although doctors are able to charge more), which the union describes as “unworthy of the required skills and insufficient”.
Public health reforms addressed by the bill include a crackdown on smoking with the removal of branding from cigarette packers and the outlaw of e-cigarettes in public places such as parks, where children are likely to be present, and a smoking ban on cars with child passengers.
The bill also proposes so-called “shooting galleries” that will give intravenous drug users access to clean needles, counsellors and clean facilities; making encouraging youngsters to binge drink a crime punishable by a €15,000 fine and up to a year in jail and digitising patients' medical records.
by Lindsey Johnstone