French primary care doctors begin strike calling for more GP investment

Patients looking to make an appointment with their GP across France might find doctor's offices closed today and tomorrow, as general practitioners go on strike.

French primary care doctors begin strike calling for more GP investment
A general practitioner receives a patient for a vaccination in 2021. (Photo by Fred SCHEIBER / AFP)

Doctor’s offices for primary care practitioners will be closed in many parts of France on December 1st and 2nd amid strike action.

Originally initiated by the collective “Doctors for Tomorrow”, unions such as Generalists-CSMF and Jeunes Médecins have joined in calling on médecine géneralists (GPs or family doctors) to “be united in anger” and to close their practices for two days.

The idea to close down GP practices during the first few days of December was originally born in September, when members of the small Facebook group “Doctors for Tomorrow” began discussing their frustrations with their careers – as doctors say they do not have enough time for proper consultations and are not happy with the fees set by the government.

GPs in France are all self-employed, but the prices for consultations and treatments are set by the government, which reimburses the cost to patients.

While not all GPs will take part in the strike, patients can expect the industrial action to be well-supported across the country. This strike sets itself apart as well because typically healthcare workers (particularly those who are frontline staff) strike by taking part in demonstrations and wearing armbands announcing they are striking, while continuing to go into work.

This time, participating general practitioners will close the doors to their practices on the two strike days – patients will still be able to access urgent care either through hospitals or the SOS Medecins service.

Benoît Coulon, a general practitioner in Besançon, located in eastern France told France 3 that he believes “there will be areas where all the practices are closed.” 

Coulon explained that the doctors will be going on strike to “show that we can’t take it anymore.”

“We are under permanent pressure, we are rushed,” he said. “We cannot do the medicine we were trained to do.”

The plan to strike originally began over calls to simplify administrative procedures and to increase the price of basic consultations – both with hopes of making the field more attractive to young doctors.

Regarding lengthy administrative procedures and paperwork, Coulon gave an example. He explained that at the end of a consultation, when swiping a patient’s medical card (carte vitale), the doctor must then log all of the medical acts performed, according to the social security code. “It’s getting more and more complex,” Coulon explained to France 3.

“There are always new procedures and you almost need to have a dictionary next to you to be sure of what you are doing,” he said.

For Coulon and other GPs, part of the ongoing issue is that young doctors are less interested in becoming general practitioners, which contributes to the multiplication of ‘medical deserts’ – areas where there are not enough GPs for the population. 

“50 percent of current interns in general medicine regret their choice of speciality and do not want to settle” Coulon told France 3. 

Many of the doctors striking would like to see the price of a consultation be raised from the usual rate of €25 to €50 (reimbursed for patients by the government).

According to Coulon, this would allow doctors to spend more time per patient, as well as to focus more on preventive work which by his estimation would save money for the healthcare system in the long run.

Additionally, doctors hope this increase in fee would allow for the hiring of staff to handle administrative processes, thus making the job of being a medical generalist more enticing to young doctors, as explained Dr. Jérôme Marty to Yahoo FR. 

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