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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 11:21 GMT
French doctors edge towards deal
A French family waits for treatment in the emergency department
Patients have had to fall back on the emergency services
Striking French health workers have moved a step closer to an agreement with the government over pay and conditions, after the country's social security fund signed a deal with one of the unions.

The fund and the MG France union reached an accord on a 330-million euro package of measures after 13 hours of overnight talks, hailed by Employment Minister Elisabeth Guigou as a "significant agreement".

But MG France, which represents doctors, is a not the largest union involved in the strike.

The main UNOF group boycotted the talks.

French doctors and nurses have staged a series of protests this week after months of growing discontent and occasional episodes of industrial action.

On Wednesday the protests culminated with a strike by thousands of general practitioners, who are demanding an increase in their fees for consultations and health visits.

Strained services

The "day without doctors" is reported to have been supported by about 75% of general practitioners, and some regions reported up to 90% participation in the strike.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin
Mr Jospin is under pressure to end the strikes
It followed a demonstration by French nurses who took to the streets in their thousands on Tuesday, demanding higher pay and better conditions.

Hospital workers also took action on Monday over their complaint that not enough extra staff have been hired to cope with France's 35-hour working week legislation.

The strikes have put enormous strain on the remaining health services.

"The emergency services have been deluged with phone calls, which was to be expected," said Patrick Pelloux, president of the association of French emergency hospital doctors.

Popular backing

The BBC's James Coomarasamy says that the strikes have placed great pressure on Lionel Jospin's government.

Mr Jospin is expected to run for the presidency in April and a drawn-out strike could prove politically damaging.

The health workers' actions have met with extensive public support.

Television images of exhausted hospital staff, and patients left for hours in waiting rooms and corridors, have shocked the country.

See also:

23 Jan 02 | Europe
France hit by mass health strike
22 Jan 02 | Europe
Nurses rally in Paris
03 Jan 02 | Europe
France's 'winter of discontent'
02 Jan 02 | Business
French bank unions call off strike
13 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Strikes Ó la Franšaise
07 Dec 01 | Europe
In pictures: Gendarmes protest
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