While the British NHS is experiencing one of the largest strikes in its history, France is also confronted with difficulties in its health service due to a strike by independent, or private, doctors that has now lasted two weeks. The striking physicians are demanding an increase in reimbursements by social security for their consultations.
The first call for a strike came on December 25th, for Christmas. Doctors closed their practices to demand an increase in the fee for general medical consultations from €25 to €50, as well as an improvement in working conditions. The strike was acutely felt as France was hit by a triple epidemic—a resurgence of COVID, the seasonal flu, and an epidemic of bronchiolitis in toddlers.
The increase in consultation fees is considered essential by doctors in independent practice to boost the attractiveness of their profession, which is no longer appealing to young people. There is a shortage of staff, and those already established in practice are overwhelmed by the administrative burden, to the detriment of patient care.
More distant concerns include rumours about planned government reform projects. These include potentially forcing doctors to set up practice in areas known as ‘medical deserts,’ and changing the law to give other health professionals the right to prescribe medication—nurses at the end of their studies, or pharmacists—which would further weaken the medical profession.
The Médecins Pour Demain (Doctors for Tomorrow) collective that called for the strike has succeeded in mobilising physicians. Its call for the closure of doctors’ surgeries has led to a drop in activity of around 30% among GPs, according to Assurance Maladie, France’s public health insurance. About 60% of the collective’s members (16,000 practitioners) declared themselves strikers in the last week of December, reports Le Parisien. The collective deplores the government’s unwillingness to listen: “The government has unfortunately not deigned to pay any attention to us despite this first week of strike action,” reads the movement’s website.
Minister of Health François Braun preferred to adopt a tone of admonition, calling on doctors to “unite in a sacred union” in the face of cross-epidemics. Médecins Pour Demain sees this reaction as justification for a renewal of the strike until January 8th. A demonstration is also planned in Paris for Thursday, January 5th.