France’s health system ‘no longer one of the best’

France's health system used to be lauded as one of the best in the world but for Europeans, including the French themselves, Sweden now tops the list, a new study has found.

France's health system 'no longer one of the best'
Photo: Joe Radele/Getty Images North America/AFP

The Ipsos study for the Convention on Health Analysis and Management (CHAM) was carried out in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Italy.

When respondents were asked which country they believe had the best health system, France lagged far behind most of the others. Sweden was rated first, with 36 percent of respondents saying they believed Swedish healthcare to be the best.

That was followed by Germany (24 percent), Denmark (11 percent), the Netherlands (10 percent) and France, which came only just ahead of Poland with 9 percent.


How France plans to transform its struggling health system

France stood out for another reason: while most Europeans feel their health system had got worst over the last decade (only 21 percent of the respondents felt things have got better) the French were by far the most critical about their national healthcare – 59 percent said they believed the situation had got worse.

These are not just perceptions. The French health system has been struggling to cope over the past few years, with emergency hospital wards bulging with patients and parts of the country described as 'medical deserts' where there are no doctors at all.

To try and solve the crisis, last week the French government presented long-awaited reforms to modernize the current health system, which was recently described by the French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn as now being 'detrimental to the quality of service'.

Could the European Union provide solutions for improving these national health services? The study's respondents said they were sceptical about the EU's ability to improve them although they were favourable overall to increased collaboration within Europe, especially regarding medical research and training.

Despite such pessimism, the study showed that the French, along with the Germans and Dutch, still believe that their national healthcare system is much better than the European average.

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.