Health workers demonstrated in cities across France on Tuesday to demand higher salaries and more staff for services stretched to breaking point, just days before the country votes in legislative elections.
Although recently re-elected, President Emmanuel Macron has ordered an investigation into emergency units needing immediate help, with people in the sector warning there is no time to waste.
“Not a single department is spared, our public hospitals are dying for lack of resources,” said Pierre Wach, head of the CGT union east of Strasbourg.
The protests began in hospitals on Tuesday morning and continued at the Ministry of Health in Paris in the afternoon, where staff, some wearing white medical coats, held up signs with messages such as “Engage more and pay us more, it’s urgent!”.
Injured worker group Samu-Urgences de France found in a May survey that at least 120 accident and emergency services across the country had already reduced work or were preparing to do so after years of Covid-19 tension.
Macron told regional newspapers on Friday that his review, led by group leader Francois Braun, would identify “where there is need, emergency service by emergency service, ambulance service by ambulance service, region by region”.
But opposition politicians and unions have accused him of stalling until after the June 12-19 parliamentary elections as some polls show the president’s outright majority could be at risk.
“It is high time to investigate,” wrote Laurent Berger, head of the powerful CFDT trade union confederation, in the left-wing daily Liberation, calling for “urgent discussions on the organization of staff” while hospitals were “ almost knocked out”.
Braun said last week he would not write “yet another report” but would “write the prescription” for hospitals in need.
Among the measures he has already suggested to the new Minister of Health, Brigitte Bourguignon, are better remuneration for night and weekend work or, more controversially, a system of filtering calls to emergency services for identify the most serious.
“We have to go into crisis management mode to get through the summer”, writes in the weekly JDD Thomas Mesnier, MP loyal to Macron and also an emergency doctor.
Some emergency workers have warned that a summer heatwave, which has proven deadly in recent years for the elderly, or a new Covid surge could throw hospitals into chaos.