French unions warn of suicide at hospital practitioner, endless work in the middle of Covid-19

After a year of brutally long hours on the “Covid front line”, hospital trainees in France are at a breaking point, to the extent that some of them have even committed suicide, according to a national union.

“These trainees are invisible, but they are frontline soldiers,” clinical psychologist Anne Rocher told AFP.

France has over 300,000 medical trainees whose average age is 25 years.

In theory, they work 48-hour weeks, “but no one cares” about it, says Marie Saleten, one of the trainees and vice president of the Paris Hospital Trainees’ Union.

According to a study conducted over a three-month period by the national internship association ISNI 2019, 58-hour weeks were actually the norm.

But with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, the figure has risen to about 80 hours a week, according to Saleten.

“They are on standby 24 hours a day, and during the pandemic you must not close your eyes, not even to a micro-nap,” said ISNI chief Gaetan Casanova.

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

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

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

‘Silent tribute’

Since the beginning of 2021, five hospital trainees have committed suicide. That equated to “one suicide every 18 days,” Casanova said.

ISNI organized a “silent tribute” to the dead outside the Ministry of Health, in which about 40 people participated, including trainees and relatives of the deceased.

The names of the trainees who took their own lives – Valentin, Tristan, Quentin, Elise, Florian – were displayed on blackboards while a banner with the text “Hospital kills trainees. Help us live” was displayed at the entrance to the ministry.

“It’s been a year since the first signs of Covid and nothing has changed,” says Saleten.

Psychologist Rocher pointed out that the doctors were still relatively young, but were expected to take care of the tens of thousands who have died of coronavirus and the many more who have recovered.

She expressed admiration for the young doctors who work “non-stop in the ward with patients and families”.

This is more true than ever during the pandemic when the care required in the intensive care units “is very difficult, both physically and mentally. And it is also repetitive”.

“It wears you out slowly,” especially over a year and more, she added.

“Sometimes someone will crack, but they quickly return to treating patients because they do not want to increase the burden on their interns,” says the psychologist.

The pandemic had strengthened “the group’s sentiment and the importance of relationships with colleagues,” she said.