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French hospital doctors to join Christmas strike

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French hospital doctors to join Christmas strike
Hospital emergency ward doctors are to join the Christmas health service strike in France. Photo: Pierre Verdy/AFP
10:57 CET+01:00
French emergency ward doctors announced on Thursday an unlimited protest set to start on December 22 to protest unreasonable work schedules and other working conditions. GPs and specialists have already announced plans to for a Christmas walk-out.

Rebellion is spreading trough the French health service.

After GPs and specialist doctors announced their intention to strike over the Christmas period, their colleagues in the emergency wards in hospitals also announced plans to hold industrial action from December 22.

The latest call to strike was announced on Thursday by the AMUF (Association of emergency doctors in France) and CGT unions representing doctors who work in hospital emergency wards.

They are unhappy with working conditions, and especially the amount of time doctors have to work and the rotas they are put on.

Christophe Prudhomme, spokesman for AMUF told The Local on Thursday that the demands on doctors meant hospitals were facing the prospect of a catastrophe.

"Currently doctors can work a maximum of up to 60 hours each week. We want it limited to 48 hours as it was laid down in a European directive in 1993," he said.

"Doctors are not working in good conditions,they are tired and when they are tired they can make mistakes especially in emergency situations," Prudhomme added. 

"They need to be 100 percent. Working night shifts is proven to be bad for your health. So it's in the name of our health that we are fighting for this directive to be implemented. It's been going on for far too long.

"It is now difficult to recruit new doctors to work in emergency wards and older ones are choosing to practice elsewhere because they are so tired. If we don't have enough doctors working in emergency wards, it will be a disaster in France."

Prudhomme said that the Christmas "strike" will not affect services with doctors choosing to carry on working rather than walking-out.

"It will be a visible protest. We will wear badges and have petitions to ask for the public's support, but we will still be working," he said.

However he warned that if the government did not listen to their demands then more traditional strike action would be taken.

For their part Specialists and GPs are protesting against reforms in a new health bill, that is due to be debated at the National Assembly in early 2015.

Jean-Paul Ortiz, president of the Confederation of French Medical Unions last month 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.

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