Hospitals faced with strikes.

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Two separate strikes have been hitting the French hospital sector over February and March 1997. On the one hand, certain unions are campaigning against cuts in hospital budgets while, on the other hand, numerous trainee doctors and senior consultants are on strike, demanding the revision of the medical agreement co-signed by the health insurance office (CNAM) and the medical profession, which in their opinion hinders the practicing of professional medicine.

Since February 1997, a number of trade unions have been protesting against budget reductions affecting hospitals, and on 14 March they organised a one-day strike. The unions involved are the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), the FO (Force Ouvrière) and the CRC (Coordonner, Rassembler, Construire), a splinter organisation born from the CFDT (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail) following the 1988 nurses' strike. The Government is in the process of reducing expenditure on hospitals and redistributing its subsidies on a national scale. Thus, the budget will be increased by only 1.25% this year and some regions such as Ile-de-France, considered as being allocated too large a part of the budget, will see a cut in their resources. The CFDT, the CFTC (Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens) and the CGC (Confédération Générale des Cadres) are not adhering to the call for a national strike. They wish to see a restructuring of the hospital network but regret the fact that the Government chose to begin with budget cuts.

There was a mood of agitation in the health sector when a new movement led by trainee doctors emerged at the beginning of March 1997. Its aim was to challenge the medical agreement signed on 28 February by the CNAM (Caisse Nationale d'Assurance Maladie) and two medical unions. This agreement was aimed at "making doctors accountable" and anticipated a maximum increase in expenditure in 1997 (prescriptions and doctors' fees) of 1.5% for general practitioners and of 1.2% for specialists. All doctors exceeding these percentages would have to reimburse a proportion of their fees and of prescription costs to the social security system.

Trainee doctors (85% of whom intend to set up professional practices under agreements with the CNAM) came out on strike, demanding a seven-year moratorium on the implementation of this agreement with regard to young doctors. Their demands were quickly met. However, strikes have resumed, this time challenging the entire agreement. The professional medical unions, hostile to "rationing", joined the strike.

The CGT and FO are pleased with this challenge to the Government's plans. However, they view the trainee doctors' and professional doctors' movement with great caution, as their ultimate aims are markedly different from their own.

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