|20 November, 2019

France promises cash, debt reduction for hospitals to quell unrest

Government hopes the package will stave off further unrest by hospital staff at a time public anger is mounting over pension system reform

A view shows the entrance of the emergency service at the Hospital Pasteur in Nice, France, March 26, 2019.

A view shows the entrance of the emergency service at the Hospital Pasteur in Nice, France, March 26, 2019.

Reuters/Eric Gaillard

PARIS - France will absorb 10 billion euros ($11.06 billion) of public hospital debt, the government said on Tuesday, part of emergency measures aimed at ending months of street protests by fed up doctors and nurses.

In a televised address, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe also promised an additional 1.5 billion euros over three years for hospitals, as well as an 800 euro bonus for 40,000 nurses and carers earning less than 1,900 euros per month.

The government hopes the package will stave off further unrest by hospital staff at a time public anger is mounting over pension system reform, the next phase of President Emmanuel Macron's economic and social reforms.

"The hospital crisis is nothing new. But it has gone through one of its acutest phases in recent months," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said. "Healthcare workers can't go on like this any longer."

The 10 billion euros to be taken over by the state represents nearly one third of the total debt burdening the public hospitals' balance sheets.

The hospital protests began in March and have rumbled on for months. Thousands of health workers marched through Paris last Thursday carrying banners that read "public hospitals in life threatening emergency."

Medics say multi-billion euro spending cuts on public health have stretched a healthcare system that was once the envy of the world to breaking point, with elderly patients left for hours on trolleys and doctors exhausted by stressful conditions.

With a 2020 public deficit expected at 2.2% of economic output, government's budget for next year has some wriggle room to absorb the extra funds for hospital without pushing the deficit over the EU-imposed 3% limit.

Since 2004, public hospitals have paid for their costs from the income they receive from the state for treatments. The state regulates how much it pays hospitals for each medical intervention.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Leigh Thomas) ((dominique.vidalon@thomsonreuters.com; +33149495432; Reuters Messaging: dominique.vidalon.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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