Health workers march in France! ‘Our public hospitals are dying for the lack of resources!’

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Delegates to the XXV Force Ouvriere trade union federation conference in Rouen last week

HEALTH workers demonstrated in cities across France on Tuesday to demand higher pay and more staff for services stretched to breaking point, just days before the country votes in parliamentary elections on June 12 and June 19.

Recently-re-elected President Emmanuel Macron has ordered a probe into which emergency units need immediate help with health workers warning there is no time to lose.

Pierre Wach, head of the CGT union in Strasbourg, warned: ‘Not a single department is spared, our public hospitals are in the process of dying for lack of resources.’

Protests began at hospitals in the morning on Tuesday and continued at the health ministry in Paris in the afternoon, where staff, some wearing white medical coats, brandished placards with messages, including ‘Hire more and pay us more, it’s urgent!’

At the podium of the XXVth Force Ouvriere (FO) trade union federation congress, in Rouen last week, around fifteen delegates representing hospital staff testified to the acute crisis of staff and bed resources, experienced on a daily basis and which has become a real mistreatment of patients and staff, the FO reported on Wednesday.

The FO-SPS federation, the linchpin of the health ‘Ségur’, calls on the executive for immediate negotiations.

Its protest platform, transmitted to the new Minister of Health, is clear: It takes 200,000 job creations in hospitals and nursing homes, and a new ‘boost’ on wages. To obtain satisfaction, on the means including in terms of staff, and on salaries, several mobilisations are already scheduled for this month of June.

‘As I speak to you, no one is able to tell us, with certainty, if the passage of summer will not be a new health disaster!,’ alerted Didier Birig. Before the delegates, Wednesday, June 1.

The secretary general of the FO-SPS federation (public and health services) did not hide his concern about the situation of the health system, on the verge of rupture.

The last illustration of this, 120 emergency services have been forced to limit their activity, or who are preparing for it, for lack of reaching the minimum regulatory staff. A month before summer, nearly 20% of the 620 public and private establishments, hosting one or more emergency services, are already concerned.

‘Our health system makes its own agents sick and the sick are no longer treated with dignity,’ denounced the FO activist, listing the multiple symptoms of the acute crisis of means, experienced on a daily basis and become abused, both patients but also agents who struggle to maintain positions.

‘Every day, services are on strike. Every day, services close. Every day, sick people cannot find beds. Every day, our elders are mistreated in nursing homes, for lack of human resources. Every day, agents leave the public hospital service (FPH).’

But Didier Birig had only one word, only one, to qualify the ‘flash’ mission on ‘unscheduled care’, announced the day before by the Head of State visiting the Cherbourg hospital centre (Manche) , and destined to find solutions … in one month.

A ‘masquerade’! For the militant, in fact, there is no need for a report to know the roots of the crisis. If the pandemic has its share of responsibility, causing such a deterioration in working conditions that it leads to mass resignations and early departures, the causes are old, well known and documented.

As the FO secretary-general Yves Veyrier reminded us, they find their source in ‘the restrictive economic policies’ carried out for decades, all supported by an objective of making savings in the hospital, social and medico-social sectors.

The following are the words of activists in the emergency room of Grenoble where there are 100 patients for three doctors.

Every day, throughout the territory, the difficulties of access to care demonstrate this. Lives were at risk if there were not the dedication of the staff. The endangering of patients health one after the other, the words of the delegates bore witness to this.

At Grenoble University Hospital (Isère), ‘between 80 and 100 people arrive every day before midnight in the emergency room and, at 8am, they are still there, for three doctors’, explained Cyrille Venet, anesthetist-resuscitator and secretary general of the SNMH FO (national union of hospital doctors).

Visibly shaken by the recent decision of the service: ‘to send back’, at 8am, to the specialist doctors on the floors patients who arrived before midnight in the emergency room, and are still waiting. ‘Even in my worst nightmares, I never imagined such a situation. It puts patients in serious danger and places medical and non-medical staff in unbearable working conditions.’

At the Cotentin public hospital centre (CHPC), ‘to access the emergency room between 7pm and 8.30am, you have to go through the SAMU 15,’ said Sandrine Gamblin for her part. In the Pays de la Loire, ‘no hospital works properly’, added Benjamin Delrue of the CHU d’Angers. ‘In 2021, 8 of the 22 partially closed emergency services in France were in the region. It lacks 6,800 nurses, 1,700 doctors, to be in the average medical density.’

At the Alpes-Léman hospital centre (CHAL) in Savoie, ‘the cardiology intensive care unit, the medical imaging department and half of the operating theatres are closed.

‘This represents 10,000 operations cancelled over the year. And, for lack of doctors in several specialties, we no longer take appointments … The whole chain of care is dysfunctional, for lack of staff and beds,’ denounced for her part Magali Guttierez, detailing the consequences on caregivers.

These families in Savoie who ‘can no longer find a place’ , for their elders, for their children with disabilities or suffering from psychiatric disorders: ‘the services are closing, and those that are working deal with requests for … 2019’.

‘We thought that the hospital beds for the most precarious would be preserved. Well, no in my establishment, 20 of the 60 beds intended for prisoners have been closed this year’, added Géraldine Museo, general secretary of the FO union at the hospital centre specialising in psychiatry Le Vinatier, near Lyon (Rhône). In 2020, 150 beds were removed there and another 52 this year.

Despite the ebb of the pandemic, the deterioration of working conditions continues: ‘The incessant recourse to overtime, due to the lack of manpower, continues to increase. But the nursing staff, exhausted, can no longer respond. Everyone can no longer do the work of several on a daily basis,’ warned Sébastien Mazel, who intervened for the hospital agents of Hérault.

‘Staff are facing an unprecedented deterioration in their working conditions, and it has gotten even worse, with reminders about workers need to rest and the refusal to grant them leave,’ added Catherine Rochard, mandated by the Maulevrier nursing home (Maine et Loire).

‘And when the holidays are no longer enough, the management clamps down on recruiting staff with the necessary qualifications. ‘In the VYV Pays-de-la Loire group, there are 260 caregivers missing in nursing homes. The management appeals to people sentenced to work of general interest (TIG) and to young people on a CIVIS contract (contract for integration into social life), instead of qualified jobs,’ denounced the activist.

‘The reality today is the flight of caregivers,’ added Audrey Jolibois for the staff of Marseille hospitals (APHM). She recounted the feeling of abandonment of the staff, after the first wave which had been marked by unfailing support from the population, followed by the measures to upgrade the ‘Ségur’.

However, ‘in the second wave, there was the end of declarations of love. And, in the third wave, we were presented as solely responsible for transmitting the virus. After being idolised, we have become the ugly ducklings, stigmatised by the government and the media.’ And today, she continued: ‘In the media, the pandemic is overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, political news. But the hospital staff is still suffering.’

The absence of recognition does not pass. ‘What contempt! The mask was useless when we ran out of them, then it became compulsory … Colleagues sick with Covid do not have recognition as having an occupational disease except for severe pulmonary forms. Because it would be difficult to demonstrate that the contamination took place in the workplace!,’ supported Pascale Guyot of the CHU of Clermont-Ferrand.

The facts, however, are there. ‘We worked every day with the fear of death. But, in my establishment, we took care of 86% of patients with severe Covid,’ recalled Magali Rouillard, who intervened for the Pays Salonais hospital (Bouches du Rhône).

Despite the context, the exhaustion, the departures, the FO staff do not let go, to demand resources and the revaluation of health professions.

A demonstration at the Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital was announced on June 7. In the Pays de la Loire, 130 delegates, representing 40 nursing homes, called for a rally on June 14 in Nantes in front of the Regional Health Agency (ARS).

The general resolution adopted at the Congress expresses the FO’s resolute determination to defend the public hospital service and health services. It condemns bed closures and demands the repeal of the Juppé orders of 1995, the abolition of the ONDAM, the T2A, closed envelopes.

More broadly, it denounces the government’s choice to remain within the logic of the hospital-business as well as the management policies of nursing homes, calling ‘for the complete overhaul of the system, including the possibility of speculating on ‘grey gold’, the market for senior health.’ And it demands ‘dignified, reassuring and well-being working conditions in all circumstances in the medical and medico-social environment’. The FO delegates did not stop expressing at the podium, for three days, the demands of the nursing staff.