On life support: can France’s struggling healthcare system be saved?

The French healthcare system was once considered one of the best in Europe and the world. However, he is now facing an unprecedented crisis, especially worrisome at the beginning of the summer when the number of patients is on the rise.

To get a feel for the situation, I traveled around France to understand the causes of this crisis and find possible solutions.

“It’s pretty disastrous”

“We don’t have the right structure, the right environment, the right tools, the right staff. Everything becomes more difficult.” It was a picture that Maxime Bartolini painted for me. A young emergency room nurse works at Frejus Saint-Raphael Hospital on the French Riviera. He had the air of a man who had been through a lot.

“We have been working at a stable high pace since December,” he explained.

“Closing non-essential hospital departments for the night meant we had to reorganize. Ambulances are also overloaded. It’s dangerous for the patient, and we’re overwhelmed. We do more than our duties, we help each other. We’re doing everything we can, but we’re running out of solutions right now, which is pretty catastrophic.”

Frejus St. Rafael is the main hospital in the Var region in southern France. It lacks five full-time doctors, which is nothing compared to other emergency departments in the region. In Draguignan, about 30 kilometers away, the emergency department has been closed for the night since October. About 20 permanent doctors are required for the normal functioning of the service. There are currently seven of them. This means that the 100,000 or so residents of the area must travel an additional 40 minutes to reach the nearest hospital in Fréjus.

Head of the emergency room at Rue Fréjus. Raphael tells me that patients sometimes have to wait in the hallway next to other patients for up to 48 hours.

This acute shortage of doctors is not confined to the popular French resorts – it is nationwide. But this health crisis goes much further.

The pandemic has dramatically exposed some of the long-standing problems facing European health systems. Leaving en masse due to exhaustion, COVID-19 hastened the departure of healthcare workers. Now in France, more people are leaving the medical profession than young doctors and nurses.

A radical transformation is needed

This deep crisis dominated the political debate ahead of France’s parliamentary elections in June. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron set up a month-long working group to try to find solutions.

I met the man who led Macron’s so-called “urgent mission” in Paris. François Braun, emergency physician and head of the Samu-Urgences de France, was appointed Minister of Health shortly after I filmed my report.

He is convinced that the crisis facing France’s emergency and emergency services is just the tip of the iceberg. He argues that in order for everything to work, the country’s healthcare system needs a radical transformation.

Today, medical personnel on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic demand more than just applause. They need funds to do their job – it’s literally a matter of life and death.