Angry doctors and nurses faced off with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, demanding better pay and reform of a once-renowned public health system that found itself quickly overwhelmed by tens of thousands of coronavirus patients.
“We are desperate. We no longer believe in you,” said a nurse who confronted Macron at the leading Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, adding that she was using a long-expired surgical mask. “We are the shame of Europe.”
“That’s not true,” the president countered — but he could barely get a word in as medics peppered him with their grievances.
Apparently anticipating such tensions and fearing that they could further hurt Macron’s image, the president’s office did not allow a single video, photo or radio reporter on the visit.
Macron acknowledged mistakes in reforming the national hospital system, which has faced decades of cost cuts, leaving medical facilities in one of the world’s richest countries short of staff, masks and breathing machines needed to fight the COVID-19 crisis.
“For months I was asking for equipment, and we had only three days to fight against the virus,” Martin Hirsch, head of the Paris hospital network, told Macron. France’s infections abruptly multiplied over a short period in March.
As the virus raced across France in March and saturated several hospitals, Macron had to deploy the armed forces to build the country’s first-ever peacetime field hospital and move patients and doctors around in military transport jets and specially fitted high-speed trains.
France’s hospital problems long predate the coronavirus crisis. Emergency-room workers held strikes and protests for months last year demanding more hiring and funding after years of job losses.
Macron’s government announced a plan last year to address the growing concerns, and pledged bonuses for medical staff when the virus hit. But “we undoubtedly made a mistake in the strategy,” the president acknowledged Friday.
“It was a great strategy, but we should have done it 10 years ago,” he told frustrated hospital staff.
Macron promised to launch a new investment plan while the virus crisis is still raging, without offering details. “Trust will only come if we move fast,” he said.
Source: Los Angeles Times