By Damon Mitchell • 25 May 2020 • 14:28
THE French health ministry is set to open negotiations today with healthcare personnel over planned reforms to hospitals and nursing homes. However, some health workers already doubt that the reforms will live up to the ‘massive’ investment promised by President Emmanuel Macron.
French Health Minister Olivier Véran has set expectations high for his first meeting with medical personnel over the future of the French healthcare system.
“We’ll go fast, we’ll go strong,” he said on Wednesday as he outlined his plans for reform. The coronavirus health crisis has exposed the weaknesses of France’s healthcare system, which has seen its capacities cut and the burden on staff increased.
In late March, French President Emmanuel Macron promised a ‘massive’ new investment plan for public hospitals, with an eye to improving pay and working conditions for staff as well as patient capacity.
In preparation for today’s meeting, the government has picked Nicole Notat, a former head of the moderate CFDT labour union and a supporter of Macron to oversee negotiations. Notat has promised to seek the widest possible consensus and to refrain from expressing her own positions.
The negotiations also come after the government’s promise of bonuses for health workers did not receive a good response.
Véran has said he wants to increase salaries in hospitals and nursing homes to “at least the European average.” Unions, however, are worried that the pay hike will only apply to nurses.
The government has also put working hours on the table, saying it wants to remove the “straightjacket that prevents those who would like to work more from doing so.”
Since 2002, French health personnel have officially been limited to a regular 35-hour working week, a rule that unions are adamant about protecting. They say that working hours are already much longer in practice and that insufficient staffing prevents health workers from taking their mandated paid time off to make up for the overtime.
It has been noted that 30 per cent of positions in French hospitals are not staffed.
“Thirty per cent of new nursing graduates leave the profession within five years,” says Thierry Amouroux, spokesperson for the SNPI. The unions blame working conditions but also inadequate management of human resources.
Staffing shortages lead to bed closures. They also require hospitals to hire temporary workers, who are paid higher than their salaried counterparts.
Véran said he wanted the hospital revamp plan to be included in the next Social Security budget in September. Trade unions have already called this timeline into question.
Healthcare unions and advocacy groups are planning national demonstrations on June 16.
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