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HEALTH

Bonuses, overtime and citizenship: How France rewards medical personnel battling Covid

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Tuesday that nurses working in intensive care units would receive a monthly bonus of €100 in recognition of their hard work during the pandemic, the latest in a series of moves to reward medical staff.

A nurse takes care of a Covid patient in a hospital in Creteil, France.
A nurse takes care of a Covid patient in a hospital in Creteil, France. The Prime Minister has announced that nurses working in ICU will receive a €100 monthly bonus from January 2022. (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

The Covid-19 pandemic has put health services around the world under huge added pressure. 

During a visit to a hospital in Creteil on Tuesday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that all nurses working in intensive care units will receive a €100 monthly bonus from January 2022

He said: “It is the Nation’s just recognition for these health workers whose commitment I have seen on each of my trips.”

Some 24,000 nurses will benefit from these payments.

Castex described health workers as “admirable” people who “face difficult medical challenges and a heavy mental load”. 

France has already made a number of gestures to reward health workers for their efforts during the pandemic.

In May of 2020, just as the first wave of Covid was retreating, all health professionals received a one-off bonus ranging from €500-1,500 depending on whether their hospital was located in a département was particularly impacted by Covid. 

In the run-up to Christmas 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron authorised a special €1,000 bonus for the country’s 320,000 home nurses/carers. 

And earlier this month, the government also announced that health workers would receive twice as much money for overtime work over the Christmas period.

Last year, the government announced that more than 12,000 foreign workers whose jobs put them on the front line during the Covid pandemic had been given citizenship under a special scheme that fast-tracked their applications.

As well as fast-tracking the application process – which normally takes between 18 months and two years – the system for frontline workers also cut the residency requirement from five years to two.

In more long-term measures, there is also the Ségur de la santé, although inspired by the pandemic, this process is aimed at improving the French medical system in the medium and long-term.

In 2020, the government launched a consultation with medical professionals known as the Ségur de la santé with the aims of making medicine a more attractive sector to work in; developing a new investment plan for the sector; streamlining the medical system; and ensuring more patient-friendly access. 

The consultation concluded that €8.2 billion should be spent annually to “revalorise” health work in hospitals and old people’s homes. Nurses, hospital technicians and other health workers in the public and private sector saw pay increases. In the public sector, health workers received an average pay increase of €183 per month.  

Social workers, particularly those that care for disabled people, lamented the fact that they did not also see a pay increase. Midwives across the country are currently on strike over what they describe as insufficient pay. 

A further €19 billion will be spent over the next ten years to modernise health facilities and clear debt in the sector. 

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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