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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 January, 2004, 05:29 GMT
French health staff set to strike

By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Paris

Health workers are due to go on strike in France on Thursday in protest at planned government health reforms.

Demonstrations are expected in Paris and other major French cities.

The French health service is running an annual budget deficit of 10bn euros (8bn) - a deficit the government says it is determined to cut.

The strikes come after a walk-out by French rail workers, which brought disruption to commuter train services around Paris on Wednesday.

Paris railway station
The health strike comes a day after rail staff walked out
The French health service is currently rated the best in the world, with patients gaining immediate access to the necessary treatment.

But it comes at a high price; a price the French government says the country can no longer afford.

Despite devoting huge sums to the health service, it is running a massive budget deficit.

That is partly because French patients can go straight to the specialist of their choice - and keep going to as many doctors as they like, for as many tests as they want.

The French also take more prescription drugs than any other nation in Europe, and expect brand name drugs, not the cheaper generic version.

The government here has been cautious about tackling health reform in the past but an ageing population is now putting more pressure on the health service than ever while providing less tax revenue to fund it.

However, the French health minister Jean-Francois Mattei has promised one thing: France will not end up with a health service modelled on either its British or American counterparts.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Allan Little
"This is the start of a long campaign by health service professionals"



SEE ALSO:
French strikes lose bite
12 Jun 03  |  Europe
France's ailing health system
30 Jul 02  |  Europe
France hit by mass health strike
23 Jan 02  |  Europe
Country profile: France
20 Jan 04  |  Country profiles


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