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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK
France boosts health after heat crisis
Jean-Francois Mattei
Mattei and other ministers were criticised for doing too little too late
France has announced 10,000 new health jobs and 15,000 extra hospital beds in response to the summer heatwave crisis.

Nearly 15,000 people died as extreme temperatures gripped the country in August, leaving the health system struggling to cope.

Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei, who was criticised for failing to respond adquately to the summer crisis, announced the measures on Tuesday.

The plan will cost nearly 490 million euros ($570 million) over the next five years, including 150 million euros to mame emergency services a "fundamental hospital activity".

Mr Mattei said the plan showed "unequalled ambition".

10,000 NEW STAFF
10% doctors
40% nurses
50% administrative staff and orderlies
"We must rethink the whole place of the emergency room in our hospital system," he said.

It was "part of the response to the drama of the heatwave that we lived through this summer," he added.

An official report into the tragedy said hospital emergency wards had become overwhelmed as the number of casualties soared, and different sections of the health care system failed to speak to each other.

It also drew attention to the widespread absence of doctors on traditional August leave.

By the time the scale of the problem was clear, it was too late for most of the victims.

Unmarked heatwave victims' graves at Thiais cemetery, south of Paris
Some victims were buried in unmarked graves
As doctors went public with the fact that people were dying, the government said it was impossible to compile statistics.

The death toll crept up over the following weeks until an official report last week confirmed that 14,802 people, most of them elderly, had died between 1 and 20 August.

Patrick Pelloux, the president of France's association of hospital emergency doctors - among the first to raise the alarm - said he would have to "wait and see" whether the plans were effective.

As well as focusing attention on the French health system, the tragedy also prompted widespread soul-searching over the number of isolated elderly people who died - and in some cases were buried - without their families' knowledge.

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