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News from the Capitals

News from the Capitals #62

France 

French caregivers in danger during their workdays 
On Monday 22 May, a 57-year-old man violently attacked two nurses at Reims Hospital with a knife. A nurse was killed, and a medical secretary was injured. This atrocity is another warning about the crisis France suffers in the field of psychiatry – one of the less financed branches of the health system – and the precarious working conditions of care workers. 

To try to fix the situation, the Health Ministry launched a national plan “Health of the Caregivers”. To help to build it, a national consultation on the health of carers was made and a questionary was sent to over 50,000 carers reported some very concerning results with over 63% of white coats believing that their state of health is not good, more than half of them stated to have already gone through one burn out at least. Regarding those catastrophic results, Agnès Firmin Le Bodo, the Health Prevention Minister outlined several priority areas of work, with better recognition and protection for healthcare professionals at the heart of the Government’s priorities and the roadmap of the Ministry of Health and Prevention.

Meanwhile, SantExpo is taking place in Paris this week, bringing together every year all the decision-makers and healthcare professionals involved in all of the health sector. On this occasion, Minister Agnès Firmin Le Bodo shared a deep “thought” for the recently killed nurse. She recalled that: “the insecurity of healthcare professionals is a subject “to which I committed myself as soon as I arrived at the Ministry, and in November I launched a mission” which is still underway and whose conclusions are expected by the end of May”.

The question remains, however, as to the effectiveness of future measures. Carers – and medical staff as a whole – are feeling the pinch: according to most of them, these public policies and their actions are not working and are not effective.

UK 

Leader of the pro-Brexit party admits ‘Brexit has failed’
The leader of the far-right party UKIP, Nigel Farage, rose to fame during the Brexit vote in 2016 due to his increasingly pro-Brexit stance. In a recent interview, Farage admitted that ‘Brexit has failed’ and that the ‘UK has not benefitted economically from leaving the Union’. The failure of Brexit is not necessarily caused by the idea and action of the UK exiting the EU but on the Tory government’s incompetency to take advantage of post-EU UK. In a very populist style, Farage further stated that Brexit taught the people of the UK that ‘UK politicians are about as useless as the commissioners in Brussels’. 

The infamous Boris Johnson COVID-19 scandal continues
The former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had recently defended himself in court for charges on breaking COVID-19 rules during his leadership, by hosting a party in No10 at the peak of the pandemic.

 Johnson has been referred to the police for the second time this week after his legal team shared concerns with the police that he had broken COVID-19 on various other occasions, as found in his diary. Following this, the former PM issued a statement accusing the Rishi Sunak government of a ‘political motivated stitch-up’ against him, as well as declaring that he will sue his lawyers for sharing his confidential information with the police without his approval. 

For his second time in court, Johnson is currently on search for new lawyers to represent him, which is expensed from taxpayers’ money. 

Inflation drops below 10% in the UK 
The rate of inflation in the UK has fallen to 8.7 percent, returning to single digits for the first time since the cost of living crisis. More importantly, food inflation remains at almost 20%, higher than it was this time last year and the highest it has been in 30 years. 

Germany 

Agreement over long-term health reform 
The focus here was on a budget to relief family members providing care. The German government has agreed to a budget for children in need of care from 2024. From 2025 the relief budget is to be introduced for all, including elderly people in need of care. The future goal is a total budget of 3,386 euros that will be available for preventive care and short-term care. These measures are aimed to provide relief for caregiving family members as well as more flexibility. 

Critique on the planner reform came from the opposition “The additional money for the relief budget will be withdrawn from those in need of care in the care services,” said health expert Tino Sorge (CDU). In July, the fees to contribute to health insurance are increasing by 3.4%, therefore the critiques on the reform point out a lack of effectiveness. 

Raid against the last generation 
Due to suspicion of forming a criminal organization, 170 police officers were deployed all over Germany this week to search the properties of members of the last generation. 

The last generation is demanding that the German government meet an international goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times and implement a 100km/h speed limit on highways. The last generation has led a series of protests, involving the protestants gluing themselves on major highways all over Germany, which caused traffic jams and societal unrest. On 24.05.2023, police officers conducted searches of the properties of 7 suspects. The accusation lies within the collection of 1.4million€ for criminal activities. Furthermore, the last generation is accused of sabotaging an oil pipeline in Trieste Ingolstadt. 

The action from the German police did not only receive support, the Linke party in Germany highlighted the protests of the last Generation as peaceful civil disobedience and the measure of a raid to be disproportional. The last generation would only highlight the failure of the German government to comply with climate goals. The last generation has announced further protests as a response to the raids. 

Spain 

The parties bring an end to the campaign for the municipal and regional elections on Friday night.
The campaign for the May 28th elections in Spain has been intense. The first week was dominated by controversy surrounding the electoral lists of EH Bildu, with candidates linked to ETA (ETA was a Basque separatist organization that conducted a prolonged and violent campaign for independence in Spain). Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez faced accusations from the opposition, especially the PP, for his party’s alliances with Bildu. In the following days, parties focused on different messages: Sánchez emphasized his government’s achievements, while Alberto Núñez Feijóo of the PP aimed to unite conservative voters against Sánchez. Ciudadanos positioned themselves as defenders of centrism, Podemos highlighted their role as necessary for progressive change, and Vox targeted both the PSOE and the PP, promising a radical shift. The campaign has been marked by unexpected events and controversies, which have forced parties to adjust their strategies. 

Spain – From drought to floods
Persistent rainfall in the east of Spain extends towards the center of the peninsula, causing damage and flooding. The torrential rains, caused by an isolated high-level depression (DANA), continue for the fifth day in the eastern part of the peninsula, resulting in damage and floods. On Friday, the rainfall extends to areas in the center, including the province of Castellón and the Sierra de Madrid, where there is a weather alert for precipitation ranging from 80 to 140 liters per square meter within 12 hours, according to the State Meteorological Agency.

In the town of Molina de Segura in Murcia, firefighters have rescued around fifteen drivers who were trapped in their vehicles and assisted in pumping out water from basements and lower areas.

Belgium 

This week, the first participants in a large-scale PFAS study in Belgium are having their blood samples taken. The participants are residents of Zwijndrecht, a municipality located nearby a factory producing PFAS products that are owned by US Chemical company 3M. The research aims to provide a better understanding of the spread of PFAS contamination and its health implications. With 9,000 participants already enrolled, this study is set to be the largest PFAS blood investigation in Europe. It includes residents of all ages, from 1 to 100 years, allowing for scientifically supported conclusions to be drawn. 

This large-scale research has been mobilised in the area due to previous alarming results. When the advocacy group Grondrecht analysed the blood of ten residents in 2021, the measured values were up to 168 times higher than what Europe considers safe. Furthermore, recent research conducted on young people living within a 5-kilometer radius of the 3M factory revealed that three out of four of them face health risks.

However, drawing general conclusions from such relatively limited studies is challenging. While it is known that PFAS can cause a myriad of health problems such as reduced thyroid and liver function, as well as issues with immunity and hormones, we still lack precise knowledge regarding the exact occurrence of these conditions, the circumstances under which they arise, the affected populations, and the dosage levels.

The new large-scale blood study has the potential to provide crucial new insights. Currently, 9,000 people have already signed up, and there is enough capacity to test 75,000 residents. According to Eurofins, the company conducting the research, the current number of participants should be sufficient to reveal clear patterns between the spread of PFAS contamination and health problems. 

However, the more participants, the better. “The more people participate in the study, the better we can investigate the distribution, causes, and consequences of PFAS in the blood,” says Flemish Minister of Public Health Hilde Crevits (CD&V). “Therefore, I hope that even more people will sign up to participate.”

Participants are also required to complete a questionnaire, ranging from questions about their lifestyle to medical inquiries about their health. Factors such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels will be examined to determine whether a connection can be established between increased PFAS levels and health effects.

The study is free of charge, and participants will receive their results within 14 days of their blood samples being taken. The results of the scientific research will take longer and are expected in the summer of 2025.

Netherlands 

The NOS reports that the parliamentary inquiry into the COVID-19 crisis is expected to last approximately three years, according to the investigation proposal by the preparatory committee of the Dutch House of Representatives. The final structure of the inquiry still requires approval from the House itself. The actual inquiry committee is likely to be established before the summer recess, with a final report expected by early 2026.

Public hearings are anticipated to take place between February and September 2025. However, the preparatory committee notes that the composition of the committee may change due to parliamentary elections during the inquiry, potentially affecting the timeline.

The House’s executive board emphasizes the extensive nature of the investigation and the importance of maintaining continuity in the committee’s composition throughout the inquiry. The inquiry will involve examining documents, conducting closed preliminary discussions, holding public hearings, and producing and presenting the research report.

The purpose of the inquiry is to examine all aspects of the COVID-19 policy and measures taken. The committee will scrutinize the role of the House and the government, the trade-offs between public health and other interests, the organization of the crisis response, and the government’s handling of fundamental rights.

The investigation will cover the period from the initial reports of a new virus emerging from China in late 2019 to the scaling back of measures in the Netherlands in spring 2022.

Initially chaired by Khadija Arib of the PvdA, the preparatory committee is now led by interim chair Mariëlle Paul of the VVD following Arib’s departure from the House.

Portugal 

Say Bye-Bye to Smoke, Portugal 
The Portuguese government has proposed new legislation that expands the smoking ban to include outdoor areas, such as covered terraces and imposes stricter regulations on tobacco sales. The objective is to cultivate a tobacco-free generation by 2040. Health Minister Manuel Pizarro expressed the government’s commitment to safeguarding future adults during a press conference, dismissing objections from certain business groups who argue that the measures are excessively harsh and discriminatory.

If approved by the parliament, where the ruling Socialists hold a majority, smoking near public buildings such as schools, universities, hospitals, and sports venues, as well as outside restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, will be banned starting from October 23. However, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs with designated smoking areas that meet isolation requirements will be allowed to maintain them until 2030.

Starting in 2025, the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products will be restricted to licensed tobacconists and airport shops. Vending machines, bars, restaurants, and petrol stations will no longer be authorized to sell tobacco. These measures form part of Portugal’s broader strategy to reduce smoking rates and create a healthier environment, especially for the younger generation, by gradually limiting tobacco consumption and access.

Additionally, in compliance with a European Union directive, Portugal is equating heated tobacco products with conventional tobacco and will prohibit the sale of flavored heated tobacco. Some businesses, restaurant associations, and the national association of fuel retailers, have criticized the measures, arguing that they harm small businesses and are unfair. 

Greece 

The Dentist Pass programme in action
The Ministries of Health and Digital Governance announced on Wednesday, 24 May, the launch of the Dentist Pass program. This is the preventive dentistry program, which concerns over 660,000 children aged 6 to 12, without income or other criteria, and aims to optimize the quality of preventive dentistry for children, as well as to consolidate the philosophy of preventive dentistry and to inform parents and children about the need for diligent care of oral hygiene, so that children grow up without dental problems.

Greek Elections: The country is blue!
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the conservative prime minister of Greece, has emerged victorious in the national elections, held on Sunday 21 May, declaring his party’s resounding triumph as a “political earthquake.” With his center-right New Democracy party securing nearly 41% of the vote, they fell just five seats short of a majority. At the same time, Syriza, the main opposition party faced a disappointing outcome with approximately 20% of the vote. 

Mitsotakis interpreted the result as a clear mandate from the Greek people for a four-year government solely led by New Democracy. The extent of New Democracy’s victory took many by surprise, as post-election results underscored a significant 20-point margin between the two main parties, shedding light on the underestimated projections of pre-election polls.

Although New Democracy won 146 seats, they fell just short of the 151 seats required for a majority. An electoral map showcased the dominance of New Democracy, with all but one of Greece’s electoral districts colored in their party’s signature blue hue!

Mitsotakis’s remarks hinted at his reluctance to form a coalition government, indicating a preference for calling a second election in late June, which would grant the winning party bonus seats.

Following the constitutional procedure, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou has already offered the leaders of the first three parties a mandate to form a coalition, which has been already declined altogether. Therefore, a transitional government was recently appointed to lead the country to new elections, most likely on 25 June.

Canada

Canadian healthcare system in crisis due to lack of personnel 
Physicians throughout the country are ringing the alarm as services are forced to close and ER are struggling to provide adequate care due to a lack of personnel. They are warning about the erosion of care and about patients suffering and dying because of the waiting times that have drastically increased. The lack of beds and staff has been identified as the main cause of the problem. 

In Calgary, Alberta admitted patients can be stuck in the ER waiting for beds on the wards for days, they say, and sections of emergency departments are routinely closed due to staffing shortages. A large proportion of Albertans do not have a family physician, resulting in them heading to the ER and overcrowding the emergency departments. 

In British Columbia, the situation has deteriorated to the point where some patients are waiting as many as three days to be admitted to other wards. Local physicians have demanded the authorities to acknowledge the extent of the crisis which, they argue, has so far been downplayed. 

In Prince Edward Island (PEI), rural hospitals have been forced to close due to the lack of personnel, further decreasing accessibility in some areas of the province. About 83 percent of the closures that have happened since 2020 were attributed to staffing issues. 

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