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Medical workers, students protest against reforms

Video by Carla WESTERHEIDE

Latest update : 2009-05-15

Protesting a hospital reform plan, thousands of French medical workers took to the streets, dismissing government concessions aimed at easing tensions. Students likewise staged rallies against a shake-up of the university system.

REUTERS - Thousands of French medical workers took to the streets of major cities on Thursday to protest against a hospital reform plan, dismissing government concessions earlier this week aimed at easing tensions.


Students likewise staged rallies across France, continuing their 15-week battle against a shake up of the university system that has also been watered down by President Nicolas Sarkozy.


Although the government is anxious to prevent the disputes from spilling over into other sectors, Prime Minister Francois Fillon ruled out any further changes to the two reforms that are central planks of Sarkozy’s bid to modernise France.


The protests have underlined both the difficulty Sarkozy faces to revise French institutions and his willingness to dilute plans to try to prevent social conflict.


At the heart of both pieces of legislation is a move by Sarkozy to give more executive powers to the managers who run individual universities and hospitals, giving them more autonomy from centralised administrative bodies.


Critics say this will turn both institutions into businesses, with decisions made purely on financial grounds.


Hoping to deflate the health protest, Sarkozy announced this week that hospital directors would have to consult medical staff over management issues, but this was not enough to convince doctors and nurses to end the dispute.


“We want a law that re-organises the hospital system, that tackles all the problems. It is not worthy of France just to have a debate on the powers of a director and the doctors,” said Andre Grimaldi, a departmental head at a major Paris hospital.


France’s public health system is regularly held up as one of the best in the world, but its accumulated debts totalled 20 billion euros ($27 billion) in 2008 and hospital workers are convinced the government has a secret agenda to cut staff.


Fillon denies this, but says chronic deficit problems must be tackled and is refusing to revisit the law, which is going before parliament.


“The government will not move any further,” he said in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper published on Thursday.


He also ruled out conceding more ground to students who are demanding that he goes back on a reform that handed universities greater autonomy.


“Everyone must now realise that we will never, never go back on the question of autonomy for universities,” Fillon said.


At least a dozen universities remain paralysed by the dispute, despite concessions over parts of the reform, and many students risk being set back an academic year with end of term exams likely to be delayed in some departments.

Date created : 2009-05-14