A French health union has accused the government of removing more than 1,800 hospital beds in the first few months of this year, when France was battling a third wave of coronavirus infections.
"From 1 January to 31 March 2021, in the midst of the epidemic, we identified 1,800 bed cuts or closures," FO-Santé union secretary general Didier Birig announced at a press conference.
"There had been no paradigm shift as promised by Emmanuel Macron in Mulhouse," he added, referring to March 2020 when the French president announced a massive investment and upgrading plan for care workers and hospitals, called the Ségur de la santé.
According to the survey carried out by the union through a consultation with all its members, 19 beds are lacking in Normandy, 40 in Brittany, 224 in Pays de la Loire. Whether brought about by public policy or a lack of staff, "The result is the same: care provision is decreasing," Didier Birig said.
This "alarming" situation is also having an impact on care workers, he added, since "the attractiveness of the profession depends heavily on working conditions".
"The first phase of the 'health segur' (a series of consultations) agreement on salaries and careers has led to progress for workers [but] the question of the number of beds and working conditions must be brought to the fore," insisted Birig, calling on the Ministry of Health to set up another working group to discuss capacity.
15,000 jobs, 4,000 beds 'needed'
"We are asking that the political approach to care and health be reversed, that we break with the essentially financial and economic approach that has prevailed until now, to look at the needs of the population," added FO chief Yves Veyrier.
"We cannot separate the quality of care, the reception of patients, from the conditions in which we allow public service workers to work and hospitals in particular," he added.
FO is calling for an immediate halt to bed closures, the reopening of those necessary to provide quality care, the creation of 15,000 jobs and "a radical change in hospital orientation".
The Ministry of Health said that the 'ségur de la santé' consultations had foreseen the possibility of opening or reopening "4,000 beds according to needs".
An envelope of 50 million euros is made available to regional health agencies each year to finance beds during episodes of seasonal peaks in activity, it said.
"For the winter of 2020-2021 alone, 2,856 beds have been opened, in 249 establishments," the ministry said.