French hospital crisis: ‘Just like Thatcher’s NHS’

A leaked memo from France's intelligence services says that the country's hospital emergency wards are on the brink of "social implosion" due to overworked staff and angry patients. One union leader told The Local it's become like Britain's NHS under Margaret Thatcher.

French hospital crisis: 'Just like Thatcher's NHS'
France's hospitals have been in crisis this year after the flu struck the nation. Photo: AFP
The note was penned by police and gendarmes (military police) from the country's intelligence services charged with maintaining public safety.
It was addressed to France's president François Hollande, the Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
Excerpts from the letter, which was dated March 5th, were leaked by French newspaper Le Parisien on Tuesday.
"The emergency services at the hospitals are faced with saturation, which is causing tensions (including verbal exchanges and insults from patients), that are notably linked to a degradation in the quality of care," it read.
It added that these factors affected the working conditions of staff, who were "sick of the massive flood of patients".
Reacting to news of the leaked memo, Christophe Prudhomme, spokesperson for the AMUF union which represents emergency ward doctors, told The Local that a lack of investment meant the situation in hospitals was similar to that of the UK's National Health Service under conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
"It's exactly like how they describe it. It's been like this for the last five years. Staff in hospitals are not able to fulfill their roles, which is to care for patients," Prudhomme said.
"We are in the same situation that the UK was in under Margaret Thatcher. There are people dying on stretchers because there are no beds available. It's an explosive situation.
"This all happens when you make cuts because people listen to those who argue there are too many civil servants," he said.
Since the start of winter, hospitals have been overflowing with patients suffering from a particularly hard-hitting flu virus, which has seen almost 2.7 million French people seeking medical care since the epidemic began last year.
The influx meant that the emergency care workers across the country were suffering from "burn out", the note added.
Prudhomme says what is happening in emergency wards is just a reflection of the overall "dysfunction" in French hospitals.
Last month The Local reported how the flu left hospitals around the country in a state of crisis as hundreds of patients were left on stretchers inside emergency wards because there were no available beds.
The officials' note added that strikes in certain hospitals around the country prompted by the crisis have only made matters worse.
The note continued to warn that together with the drastic cuts planned on hospital spending, the industry could risk seeing even more protests from workers. 
The ministry of health announced earlier this month that it would cut €3 billion off its bill for hospital spending by deleting 22,000 posts over the next two years.
"Last week we learned of the savings plan via the press. It has only created more anger among doctors and staff," Prudhomme said.
"When you have people waiting on stretchers or you are forced to transfer them to other hospitals 20 or 30 kilometres away. Something has failed."
When confronted about the document, France's Health Minister Marisol Touraine did not directly comment on the content of the letter, but told Le Parisien that winter was always "a period of increased fatigue" among emergency workers.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


French pharmacies run out of flu vaccines as demand soars

The annual flu vaccination campaign in France was only launched last week, yet already pharmacies across the country have sold out of doses.

French pharmacies run out of flu vaccines as demand soars
High risk groups such as the elderly are now being prioritised. Photo: AFP

Desperate to avoid hospitals facing the combined pressure of flu patients and Covid-19 patients this winter, the French government launched a greatly expanded flu vaccination programme this year, urging anyone in a risk group to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

But demand has far outstripped what the government anticipated, and just a week after the campaign was launched on October 13th, pharmacies across the country are declaring rupture de stock (sold out) of vaccines. Around 60 percent of pharmacies are reporting shortages of flu vaccine.

Gilles Bonnefond, president of the pharmacists union l' Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d'officine (USPO) told France Info: “We have already vaccinated nearly five million people in less than five days.

“This is almost half of what was done all last year during the entire vaccination campaign.”

In 2019 the flu vaccine campaign was expanded and pharmacies were allowed to administer the vaccine for the first time – that year saw just over 10 million people vaccinated, roughly one sixth of the population.

This year, however, take-up has skyrocketed due to the Covid-19 threat.

“Last week, we sold 51 percent of the doses that we sold all last year”, Pascal Fontaine, purchasing director of the Pharmacie Lafayette group, added.

The government is now asking people who do not fall into priority groups to delay their vaccination so that the most high-risk groups can be protected first.

Anyone who is registered in the French health system and falls into a high risk group is usually contacted by their doctor or assurance maladie inviting them to be vaccinated, with a code to present for a free vaccine.

High risk groups are:

  • Over 65s
  • People with chronic or long-term health conditions
  • People with a BMI of 40 or over
  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with those who cannot be vaccinated, including babies and those who are immunocompromised

However anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be, either by making an appointment with their GP or visiting a pharmacy. For those people the vaccine is free but they will have to pay the standard medical appointment charge for it to be administered.

It is these people that the government is asking to delay getting their jab.


The government purchased 30 percent more doses than usual this year, but will now have to order more to cover the higher-than-expected demand.

A spokesman for the health ministry said: “We urge people who do not present a particular risk and who would like to be vaccinated, to postpone their vaccination until early December.”

For more details on high risk groups and the payment system, click here.