Will new bonus for emergency health workers quell discontent?

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Workers in the emergency wards of the public hospital in the northern French city of Rouen have begun an open-ended strike, in protest over poor working conditions, lack of funding and resources.

This comes as the prime minister Jean Castex announced a monthly bonus for staff in intensive care units as of January to cope with the strain of the Covid-19 epidemic

"There are 38 staff on strike out of 158 people in the service. This is a high number. It's a significant strike which should be taken seriously," Bertrand Cazelles, deputy director of the CHU hospital in Rouen, told French news agency AFP.

He added that the "plan blanc" or strategy of cancelling all non urgent medical procedures had already begun in the hospital 15 days ago, in order to focus on the Covid crisis.

"The local health authorities must wake up to the difficulties faced by public hospitals, such as recruitment," Frederic Louis, from the CFDT union said.

He said around 50 beds have been closed in the hospital due to the lack of staff, with around 40 jobs for nurses still vacant.

"This has brought about a lack of organisation in the emergency wards. Colleagues in ICU are overworked because there are too many patients and not enough beds for them to be transferred to," he explained.

"We are in a critical situation, particularly tense in the emergency sector," Cazelles said.

"We have patients who are staying longer than necessary in emergency wards because there aren't enough beds available for them to be moved to. To manage this, we've been paying staff overtime, meaning we've been able to keep more beds open than we expected to."

One nurse told AFP that they hoped emergency health workers "would not be called away to fill gaps in other services," leading to the recruitment of temporary workers who on the whole "were less efficient in emergency situations."

Bonus for staff

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Tuesday a monthly bonus of €100 for nurses in emergency wards as of 1st January 2022.

This will be paid to around 24,000 health workers.

"This is about improving attractiveness, training, qualification, working conditions in intensive care units, acknowledging the skills of those who work there," Castex said during a visit to an intensive care unit in Creteil, near Paris.

The bonus is part of a series of recommendations made by a special report on the situation to be presented next week, according to the health minister Olivier Véran.

"This is a continuation of the national health consultation (Segur de la santé); and recognition for the services we need now more than ever in this crisis, particularly in light of the Omicron variant," Castex said, reiterating the importance of vaccination.

Castex and Véran announced on Monday a raft of measures in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19, amid record numbers of infections in the past few days.

It's not the first time since the beginning of the crisis that health workers have gone on strike, warning the government of the dire conditions and lack of resources.

In May, technicians in medical laboratories in both the private and public sectors went on strike, calling for a salary increase and more recognition for their role in the pandemic.

But the malaise in the health sector in France dates back much further than the beginning of the pandemic, with workers striking or protesting over their working conditions at regular intervals.

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