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French Health Care


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The following letter appeared in the Independent last Friday. It may provide food for thought.


As an NHS-trained nurse who has worked in the French health service (mainly in intensive care in a large public hospital) for the past nine years, I find it ironic that the favourable British press coverage of the French system coincides with a week of industrial action by health care workers here in France.

Health service workers are badly paid and have a near-unmanageable workload. Levels of stress and exhaustion are high - the introduction of the 35-hour working week was supposed to help unemployment, but is being used to compress the workload and create many hours of unpaid overtime. We work with staffing levels that would cause bed closures in the UK - one nurse for three patients in the intensive care unit (as opposed to 1:1 in the UK) and lack of nursing staff is never a reason to refuse a patient.

Nursing is a largely non-graduate profession in France with fairly low expectations and an almost non-existent career structure. At a recent National Critical Care conference in France I presented a paper, and as I talked of the career structure, staffing levels and pay scales of British nurses, the gasps from the audience were audible.

So, if you want to learn from the French healthcare system - take the best (excellence in terms of choice and waiting times) but look critically at the rest - for the sake of the health workers.

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Having seriously dislocated my ankle last September I was admitted to a hospital,the service could not be bettered,both in emergency and on the wards.The district nurse was excellent when I was released but then so was the NHS when I came home.
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