GPs and laboratory analysis workers in France are set to strike today and Friday (December 1 and 2) in a bid to put pressure on the government over consultation fees and a reduction in funding.
How many GPs and labs will be affected?
Participating GP surgeries and laboratories will be closed on the strike days.
La Confédération des syndicats médicaux français (CSMF) has said that the strike will be taken up by as many as 70% of independent GPs. La Fédération des médecins de France (FMF) has said participation could be as much as 90% in some places.
François Escat, president of le Syndicat national des urgentistes de l’hospitalisation privée, said: "At a national level, 60% of emergency services will be on strike, and 100% in the greater Toulouse area.”
Patients who need a doctor in the meantime will be advised to call their local out-of-hours service, go to hospital or to contact their local Agence régionale de santé (ARS).
What are the strikes calling for?
GPs are calling for the upfront cost of a consultation to rise from €25. Lab analysts are protesting against the reduction in funding of €250,000 per year, as stated in the government’s new healthcare budget.
Some GPs are calling for the consultation fee to rise to €50, but not all of them agree.
Aurélien Vaillant, vice-president of the MG France union in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, said: “We don’t want to take it that far. It would be too difficult for patients who are already in difficulty, the least well-off.
“But the amount [for each consultation] must be revised, at least to bring it in line with inflation. It hasn’t changed in five years.” France has a low fee compared to the European average, which is €46. Currently, this is reimbursed up to 70%.
GPs want to ensure their profession’s “value is recognised”, they have said.
Doctors are also fighting for their right to keep their independent status, which some believe is being threatened due to some parliamentary proposals regarding the problem of medical deserts.
Doctors are calling on the government to stop making “sticking plaster laws”, such as offloading some doctor tasks to advanced nurses, or deploying medical assistants.
Corinne Le Sauder, president of la FMF, said: “We are asking for investment from the state so that every patient can have access to a doctor. Half of medicines don’t have a physical assistant. [So] we are asking for more space and resources so we can hire more staff.”
‘Electric shock’ of closure
It is the first time that lab analysts have called a general strike since 2015.
The movement has been spearheaded by a collective of young doctors, called Médecins pour demain. Created in August, it now has more than 14,000 members in its Facebook group. It says it is “apolitical” and not associated with any particular union.
Céline Bretelle, a young GP and spokesperson for Médecins pour demain, said: “France is the seventh-largest global power but we pay our doctors the same as some third world countries. Do you think that’s normal?”
Some unions have joined the group’s movement. These include UFML and FMF, who came to crisis talks alongside a representative from Médecins pour demain. However, FMF said last week that they found authorities to be “deaf to [our] suffering”, so [we must] shout even louder”.
Another union, SML, said: “These two days of closure must constitute an electric shock.” SML has long been campaigning for an increase in the consultation fee from €25 to €50, to enable doctors “to remain independent”.
President of CSMF, Franck Devulder, said that “political solutions” will be counter-productive, and that it is more “urgent to quickly find an attractive [deal]”.
Agnès Gianotti, of union MG France, added that there had been a “loss of meaning of the profession", and fixing it would not be "achieved through coercion or contempt".
More December strikes?
Some protest representatives have said that strike action could last long into December and also affect the holiday period. Médecins pour demain have said that they may call a “hard strike” from December 26 onwards, with surgeries closed for an “indeterminate time”.
They have also said that strikes of two weeks or more could be on the horizon for 2023.
Luc Duquesnel, of CSMF, has said: “We are moving towards a stronger movement, which is set to get even bigger.”
Agnès Firmin Le Bodo, junior minister for healthcare professions, said: “I’m not sure that will be popular, nor will it come at the right time.”
She said that the growing difficulty of access to healthcare in France has repercussions, and “the feelings of our citizens towards doctors are beginning to change”.
Health Minister François Braun has condemned the strikes plans, saying that the actions are “unethical” and “endangering the continuity of care”.