French emergency room medics were protesting on the streets on Thursday, describing a system that is at breaking point due to underfunding and an ageing population.
But when we asked readers of The Local for their experiences of the French hospital system they were overwhelmingly positive, with people singing the praise of both French medical staff and the system itself.
Emergency medical staff have been staging protests over underfunding or overwork. Photo: AFP
Short waiting times for treatments were singled out for praise by many British readers while American readers loved the fact that it is largely state funded, removing the burden of huge healthcare costs for people with serious illnesses.
Of the dozens of people who responded to our survey, 86.6 percent said the service they received was either good or first class, 2.2 percent described it as average and 11.2 percent said it was either bad or very bad.
They described their care at dozens of different hospitals and clinics around France and the overwhelming experience was a positive one.
Kenneth Hopkins in Dordogne said: “It has saved my life twice in 14 years. Very fast and positive response and the very best of care and attention at all times.”
Lynda Busser in Calvados agreed, saying: “If it wasn't for the care and attention from the staff I am sure I would be dead.”
Rhiannon Smith reported: “I have given birth twice at the same hospital and cannot fault mine or my baby's care during and after birth.”
Madeleine Benham in Poitiers said: “When I was admitted to hospital I was there for 10 days, I had every scan and test invented regardless of the cost , until they were 100 percent sure what the problem was. If in the UK I would have been almost dead before even getting an appointment.”
Elizabeth Francis in northern France reported: “The medical care was first class, I was treated with respect and courtesy at all times, everyone was helpful and considerate.”
Alison Bamonte in Tarn-et-Garonne said: “I have been very fortunate, with excellent care for my ongoing problem, and more significantly for my partner when he was dying with cancer.”
Sarah Higgins highly recommended the services in her département of Cantal, saying: “The speed with which I have been seen by the specialist for consultation and then the operation. The staff at the hospital could not have been more helpful and solicitous of my welfare.”
While John Bryden in Charroux reported: “Our GP went out of her way to find a surgeon reasonably near to us. I managed to contact his office and get a speedy appointment.
“Then the system took over and all went smoothly with good information for us. The hospital/clinic was spotlessly clean and the staff were very nice. In fact all our experiences with the French healthcare services have been much better than in UK. I would say though that the UK staff were all very caring, just the system is so busy there.”
But of course no system is perfect and there were people who had less good experiences. Although many people reported that their local medical staff spoke good English or were patient with their attempts at French, others were disappointed with the level of English spoken in their département.
The majority our of readers found French medics caring and sympathetic, but there were some exceptions. Photo: AFP
There were also some people who had horror stories to tell.
Nastita Mezailles, who lives in eastern France near the Swiss border, said: “There are two things that are the highlights. First, I was under anasthesia for my first C-section and I heard the surgeons gossiping how I look too young to carry a child (I was 28, and Asian). Second, my daughter had a terrible whopping cough and we took her to emergency, no pediatrician was available or took patients. After three hours of waiting, the attending doctor diagnosed that our heater was the problem. Furious, I went to Switzerland to get proper care. I would rather pay hundreds than receive a free diagnosis that our heater was the problem.”
Jeff Water in Paris said: “The problems with the French healthcare system is not the care, which is good, but with the bureaucracy.
“In the United States, I can go to a doctor and they have my information on their computer; in France, I have to explain my situation each time I go to a doctor.
“No one talks to each other. In May, I went to a doctor about a minor thing and this was pattern: consult, consult, biopsy, consult, bloodwork, anesthesiologist consult, procedure. Half those steps could have been eliminated if doctors would have better access to each other’s files.
“The other thing that shocks me a bit in France is the complete lack of privacy when discussing medical information: people standing right behind you when you're discussing medical issues with staff, staff asking you inappropriate questions (for example, a person drawing my blood asked me the reason for my bloodwork – that is none of their business). If I got really sick, I’d go home. As I tell people, the best hospital in France is American Airlines.”
And Jennifer Freedman in south west France found that the experience varied a lot between different hospitals: “It has been very good for the most part, but it really depends on the hospital.
“My husband's experience the hospital in St Julien Genevois was not great – old equipment, unpleasant personnel and in the emergency room, the waiting times can be very, very long. He also had to go through a procedure two times at the hospital in Lyon because they failed to treat an infection before operating, so the operation failed.
“That said, we have had excellent care in Annecy and that is where we now go if necessary.”
In response to the concerns raised by doctors, the French government has promised a major reform of the system, with more care offered in the community to account for the ageing population and more people living with chronic conditions such as diabetes.
The above comments are just a selection of the many responses we received to our survey, thank you to everyone who took the time to respond.