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PANDEMIC

Pandemic leaves French hospital interns at breaking point

After a year working brutally long hours on the "Covid front-line", hospital interns in France are at breaking point, to the extent that some of them have even committed suicide, according to a national union.

Hospital interns in France are breaking under pressure
Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP

“These interns are invisible, but they are front-line soldiers,” hospital clinical psychologist Anne Rocher told AFP.

France has over 300,000 medical student interns, whose average age is 25. In theory, they work 48-hour weeks, “but nobody cares” about that, said Marie Saleten, one of the interns and vice-president of the union for Paris hospitals interns.

According to a study carried out over a three-month period in 2019 by the national interns’ union ISNI, 58-hour weeks were actually the norm.

But with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, that figure has risen to around 80 hours per week, according to Saleten.

“They are on call 24 hours a day, and during the pandemic, you don’t get to shut your eyes, not even for a micro-nap,” said ISNI chief Gaetan Casanova. “It’s too much and everyone is paying the price, caregivers and patients. Everyone is in danger,” Casanova warned.

Health Minister Olivier Véran met with representatives of ISNI and other intern groups on Thursday. “Together, we are committed to improving their working conditions, starting with their working hours,” the minister tweeted following the meeting, but ISNI said the responses it had received were too vague.

‘Silent tribute’

Since the start of 2021, five hospital interns have committed suicide. That was equivalent to “a suicide every 18 days,” said Casanova.

ISNI organised a “silent tribute” to the dead outside the health ministry, attended by around 40 people, including interns and relatives of the deceased.

The names of the interns who had taken their own lives – Valentin, Tristan, Quentin, Elise, Florian – were displayed on blackboards while a banner reading “Hospitals are killing interns. Help us to live” was displayed at the entrance to the ministry.

“It’s been a year since the first signs of Covid and nothing has changed,” said Saleten.

Psychologist Rocher pointed out that the medics were still relatively young, but were expected to take care of the tens of thousands who have died of coronavirus and the many more who have recovered.

She voiced admiration for the young medics who work “non-stop in the ward with patients and families”.

This is more true than ever during the pandemic when the care required in intensive care units “is very hard, both physically and mentally. And it’s also repetitive”.

“It wears you down slowly,” especially over a year and more, she added. “Sometimes someone will crack, but they quickly return to treating patients because they don’t want to increase the burden on their co-interns,” said the psychologist.

The pandemic had strengthened “the sense of the group and the importance of relations with colleagues,” she said.

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COVID-19

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body outlined how Covid-19 rules changed starting on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules relaxed in France as the country brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes took effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 would return to normal starting February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 now also have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that began at the start of February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.

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