Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Monday that health workers would soon get hefty pay increases as part of an overhaul of France's hospital system in response to the coronavirus crisis.
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“I can say without any ambiguity, the increase will be significant,” Philippe said while kicking off consultations with doctors and nurses that are expected to conclude in July.
Health workers have long complained about low salaries and insufficient staff at French hospitals, leading to a series of strikes over the past year to demand funding increases.
In recent weeks, many have insisted that the nightly rounds of applause for caregivers treating COVID-19 patients would begin to ring hollow if the government did not back up the public recognition of their work with additional resources.
Starting pay for a nurse, for example, stands at 1,500 euros ($1,600), one of the lowest levels in the OECD group of developed economies.
Philippe promised “massive investments” as well as “radical changes” that could include new rules on working hours and scheduling to ensure that healthcare workers remain motivated despite the strains of their jobs.
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“The key word here is pragmatism. I cannot say now what these discussions will lead to, but I've said that we must remove all constraints, whatever they are,” he said.
The government had already promised last November an additional 1.5 billion euros for hospitals over the next three years, including bonuses for thousands of nurses, in the face of growing anger over heavy workloads and staff shortages.
The state also pledged to absorb 10 billion euros of hospital debt, giving the system the ability to take on new loans for investments.
“We must do more,” Philippe acknowledged Monday, without providing any figure on potential spending.
“I believe this crisis requires us not to change our goals, but to step up our pace,” he said.
The coronavirus outbreak has killed over 28,000 people in France, though the number of daily deaths has fallen sharply since the peak of the outbreak.
The government is expected to announce next week a further loosening of the lockdown imposed in mid-March, which currently limits people from travelling more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from their homes.
Restaurants, bars and cinemas also remain closed, though they could be allowed to re-open with strict social distancing restrictions in areas where the number of COVID-19 cases has remained limited.