Pandemic leaves French hospital interns at breaking point

Laurence Coustal

PARIS (AFP) – After a year working brutally long hours on the “COVID front-line”, hospital interns in France are at breaking point, to the extent that some of them have even committed suicide, according to a national union.

“These interns are invisible, but they are front-line soldiers,” hospital clinical psychologist Anne Rocher told AFP.

France has over 300,000 medical student interns, whose average age is 25.

In theory, they work 48-hour weeks, “but nobody cares” about that, said Marie Saleten, one of the interns and vice-president of the union for Paris hospitals interns.

According to a study carried out over a three-month period in 2019 by the national interns’ union ISNI, 58-hour weeks were actually the norm.

Medical interns and families lay flowers in homage to five medical interns who committed suicide since the beginning of the year during a gathering in front of the French Health Ministry. PHOTO: AFP

But with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic that figure has risen to around 80 hours per week, according to Saleten.

“They are on call 24 hours a day, and during the pandemic you don’t get to shut your eyes, not even for a micro-nap,” said ISNI chief Gaetan Casanova.

“It’s too much and everyone is paying the price, caregivers and patients. Everyone is in danger.”

Health Minister Olivier Veran met with representatives of ISNI and other intern groups on Thursday.

“Together, we are committed to improving their working conditions, starting with their working hours,” the minister tweeted following the meeting, but ISNI said the responses it had received were too vague.

Since the start of 2021, five hospital interns have committed suicide. That was equivalent to “a suicide every 18 days”, said Casanova.

ISNI organised a “silent tribute” to the dead outside the health ministry, attended by around 40 people, including interns and relatives of the deceased.