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3,000 surgeons threaten to desert France in protest at falling pay levels
By Alex Duval Smith in Paris
30 April 2004
Thousands of surgeons have taken French strike inventiveness to new heights, threatening to leave the country for a month in an attempt to force the government to improve their working conditions.

The 3,000 members of Chirurgiens de France - a professional association representing one-third of surgeons - have threatened to stage a mass exodus at the end of the summer unless the government raises their pay rates and takes steps to close the shortfall in the number of new doctors entering the profession.

Guy-Marie Cousin, who heads the gynaecologists' and obstetricians' union, said surgeons' rates of pay have been index-linked for 14 years, but have not kept up with the soaring insurance premiums the French public health service requires them to take out.

He said: "In 1993, an obstetrician paid €1,500 (£1,000) in insurance. That figure stands at €16,600 (£10,800) now.'' He said the insurance premiums were a disincentive to medical students who might otherwise consider becoming surgeons. Next year, 56 orthopaedic surgeons are expected to qualify in the Paris region, but there will be jobs available for 131.

Dr Cousin said: "An average fee for a hysterectomy in a French hospital is €60 (£40). A vet who carries out the same operation on a female dog will charge €120 (£80).'' He said Chirurgiens de France hoped its threatened strike action would prompt French MPs to include the plight of surgeons in their current deliberations over health service reforms.

Two years ago, thousands of family doctors in France went on strike in a dispute over pay and conditions. A "day without doctors" was the culmination of a series of protests within the French health service and was supported by about 75 per cent of general practitioners. Many specialists, surgeons, dentists and some emergency workers also stayed at home.