Drained by COVID Fight, Some French ICU Nurses Strike for Better Pay

AULNAY-SOUS-BOIS, France (Reuters) – Intensive care medical staff exhausted by the battle against COVID-19 went on strike in some French hospitals on Tuesday to demand better pay and working conditions.

The hard-left CGT trade union said the coronavirus crisis had underlined the need to increase the number of nurses and intensive care beds in public hospitals, as well as improve salary terms.

At the Robert Ballanger hospital in Aulnay-sous-Bois outside Paris, where all 16 available critical care beds are full – nearly all with COVID-19 patients – nurses worked through their strike to ensure life-saving care was maintained.

“We’ve been fighting for years for this pay increase,” said nurse Aurelie Lesueur, the words ‘On strike – Burnout’ scrawled on the back of her medical scrubs.

Lesueur and her colleagues said the specific skills of an ICU nurse should be recognised, as they were for other roles such as in pediatrics and anaesthesiology, and reflected in pay packets.

A year on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19 had taken a mental and physical toll, Lesueur said. Some colleagues had quit and others were on sick leave. Staff shortages meant two beds in her ward were closed, the nurse added.

As France slowly unwinds a third national lockdown, pressure remains acute on hospitals. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care this week fell back below 5,000, the threshold for full saturation.

A protest outside the Health Ministry is planned later on Tuesday.

“We’re exhausted,” said nurse Celia Leger. “We want recognition for the particular care we provide.”

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