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French doctors warn of 'dying' public hospitals amid healthcare strikes

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French doctors warn of 'dying' public hospitals amid healthcare strikes
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DOMINIQUE FAGET / AFP
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"The hospital is dying", 600 French doctors have warned, threatening to quit if the country's health minister does not negotiate with them about the future of the public health service.

"Due to a lack of funding enabling care quality and guaranteeing the security of patients, the hospital is dying", an op-ed signed by 600 doctors and published in the JDD newspaper on Sunday (December 15), warns.

"Hospital doctors raised the alarm to no answer, cuts have led to austerity and austerity has become critical," they wrote.

The doctors denounced cutbacks in the health budget, saying that "the real Health Ministry is based in Bercy" [France's finance ministry]. They acknowledged that the current Health minister, Agnes Buzyn, has "spoken about compassion," but regretted that no meaningful funding plan followed.

Buzyn said in response that she wants to "reinvigorate the hospital again" and hoped that people would "want to work and stay" in the public health sector.

"Last year, for the first time in ten years, the public hospital budget increased", she said. "I reallocated hundreds of millions of euros."

The doctors calling for more funding, she said, "have not yet seen the immediate effect" of these budget announcements.

Yet in their letter the doctors threatened start a "disobedience movement" to be heard. "How can we force the government to open an emergency debate on public hospital services with a real plan and funding that answer its needs?", they asked.

"The government's measures for 2020 are limited to less than €300 million, despite the general viez that €1.3 billion is needed to cope with the planned augmentation of tasks."

The letter said that, when it reached 1,000 signatories, doctors will send it to Buzyn to "ask her to start negotiating" with striking hospital staff through the Inter-Hôpitaux group, which organises actions calling for better funding.

French healthcare services have been on crisis mode for months.

On November 14, thousands of hospital staff marched across France to demand better funding for public healthcare. In Paris, the protesters number between 7,500 and 10,000.

One week later, the French government announced emergency funding that it said would give public hospitals "oxygen" including a €1.5 billion budget rise over three years and bonuses for employees. Striking staff said it was not enough.

Previous budget announcements by Buzyn, in June and September, did not convince the sector either, and the strike in hospital emergency services, which began in March, has carried on. On December 1, emergency services were on strike in 268 hospitals across France.

Since December 10, junior doctors have joined the movement, with the union Isni calling a strike and protesting "the degradation of care" and the dire state of the hospitals where they are in training.

Unions have called doctors, nurses, carers and all workers in the health sectors to join the general strike planned on Tuesday (December 17) to protest against the controversial French pension reform. A march is planned in Paris for health workers, starting from the Lariboisière hospital.

A national protest is planned on January 20, a junior doctors union has said in a statement.

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