September 18, 2018 / 10:45 AM / 8 months ago

Macron injects more cash into France's strained healthcare system

* Healthcare budget to increase 2.5 pct in 2019

* Macron promises more doctors in rural areas

* Ageing population, spending constraints, put strain on hospitals

By Matthias Blamont

PARIS, Sept 18 (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday promised extra money and more doctors in rural areas to ease pressure on France’s hospitals, which are creaking under the weight of budget constraints and closures of clinics outside towns and cities.

Spending on healthcare will increase by 2.5 percent in 2019, higher than the initial 2.3 percent target and amounting to an additional 400 million euros ($470 million) in a near 200 billion euro budget, Macron said.

“Without changes, the hospital system will collapse,” Macron said in a speech at the Elysee Palace. “We need to rethink how we organise healthcare for the next 50 years.”

France’s public healthcare system is considered one of the world’s best, but an ageing population and financial constraints have put it under strain.

Patients increasingly complain of overcrowded emergency rooms and, in rural areas, travel times to the nearest clinic, while nurses frequently bemoan a shortage of beds and staff shortages.

Macron’s announcement came days after he unveiled a separate 8 billion euro plan to fight poverty in France, where some 8.8 million people live below the poverty threshold.

Long in the planning, Macron hopes his social reforms will help counter criticism from left-wingers that he is a president of the rich and help turnaround a sharp fall in popularity.

Macron also promised the recruitment of 4,000 medical assistants to handle paperwork and free-up doctors in urban areas to treat patients.

$1 = 0.8559 euros Reporting by Matthias Blamont, Julie Carriat, Marine Pennetier; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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