French President Emmanuel Macron was met with an angry reception when he came to visit the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris this Friday. Talking to the healthcare staff, he told them not to let “good energy fall and despair set in,” but the morale-raising jibe didn’t play well with some of the nurses listening.
“Unfortunately, it’s already there, Mr Macron! Even before Covid-19, we were already desperate,” one nurse furiously retorted, adding, “It’s been years, Mr Macron!”
Pitie-Salpetriere is one of the leading Paris institutions treating coronavirus patients, but it seems that, as elsewhere across France, its staff are apparently suffering from an appalling shortage of personal protection gear.
No doubt anticipating the angry reception, and fearing it could damage Macron’s image, the president’s office didn’t allow any media to officially film or photograph the meeting, according to AP. However, the altercation was caught on a smartphone camera and widely shared online.
“I’ve worked as a nurse for six years. We have no equipment. We have nothing!” a nurse exclaimed in the footage. “Why am I currently working with a mask that expired in 2001? Just why?” she asked.
“We are desperate. We no longer believe in you.”
The president reminded the staff that he had previously pledged a salary raise and financial bonuses for those battling the coronavirus, only to face another nurse who had some strong words about their grievance.
“The bonus is nice – we’ll take it anyway,” she commented, but France is still “one of the countries where nurses are the most poorly paid anyway.” Driving home her point, she continued, “And with each promise, you add conditions.”
Macron went on the defensive, telling her that when he makes promises, he fulfils them, to which one of the nurses quipped: “Our salaries don’t see the difference.” As she pointed out, it was only after the Covid-19 outbreak that the government made a long-needed investment into healthcare.
As the standoff grew even tenser, the president acknowledged mistakes had been made in overhauling the national healthcare system, which has suffered from years of budget cuts and reductions in its workforce.
That, in turn, has left France’s hospitals overwhelmed by coronavirus patients in recent months.
“We must put an end to this impoverishment,” Macron urged, adding that his reform strategy for healthcare was less efficient because much more should have been done “10 years earlier.” He said he had instructed the health minister to work on an investment and upgrade plan for the country’s hospitals.
Seeking to exit what had quickly become an unpleasant meeting, the president said he had to finish, “because, really, I’ve got to run.” But the nurses had the last word. “We, too, must go,” one replied, “We have patients waiting for us.”
Once Europe’s coronavirus hotspot, France currently has more than 179,000 Covid-19 cases, and has seen around 27,500 deaths.
The outbreak of the epidemic quickly saturated the available hospitals in this, one of the EU’s wealthiest countries, prompting the government to deploy the military to build ad hoc medical facilities and move patients and doctors between institutions to share the load.