Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Keep taking the pills

Three hundred french surgeons went on a four day strike today to protest against the government back down on promised pay increases, part of which should serve to cover the increasing cost of insurance against patient claims due to increasingly strict legislation againts medical error. Doctors currently pay around £10,000 per year on insurance alone.

The twist in this story is that the doctors have decided to take the Eurostar to Kent in England in order to carry out their strike. There are two reasons for this: firstly, they are worried that their strike will be broken if they stay in France (presumably by the sight of desperate patients begging to have their tumours operated), and secondly, they believe that coming to Britain with its long waiting lists will remind French politicians and voters how bad things can get if they don't fund the health service properly!!

France is well known for its high level of support for health. The French government spends about 50% more on health per head of population than the UK. The result is that you rarely have to wait long when you turn up at a French hospital. I had this experience recently when a suspected appendicitis of my daughter was dismissed (by urine tests, X-rays and physio check) in only a couple of hours, much to our relief.

The French are well known medicine junkies, taking many more pills and medicaments than any other country in the world. While the average Brit stays as far from the doctor as possible, the French visit at every possibility and feel cheated if they do not walk away with a little rattling carton of something or other. The origin of this phenomenon, as reported in this fascinating article from the San Francisco chronicle, is the government's control of 80% of all pharmaceutical prices which keeps prices low and puts the emphasis on volume sales, turning the population into medicine junkies through advertising and drug reps pressurising doctors to prescribe. The only beneficiary of this malady are a number of charity organisations who consider it worthwhile to collect unused medicines for resorting and export to poor countries.

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