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Feature Health Systems

French healthcare: the high cost of excellence

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 15 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1524
  1. Sophie Arie, freelance journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. ariesophie{at}

The French health system is rated as the best in the world, but paying for it is becoming increasingly difficult, Sophie Arie reports

The Georges Pompidou European Hospital is a gleaming example of a modern French university hospital. When you arrive it feels as though you have come to a plush shopping centre or an airport (it was designed by leading French architect Aymeric Zublena, who also co-designed the Stade de France football stadium). Beneath a high, modern glass and steel structure, there is a central “street” where patients, students, doctors, and the public mingle in a light, airy setting complete with palm tree, cacti, and a film centre. Off one side there is a newsagent, a café, and a panoramic lift leading to spacious offices flooded with natural light. To the other side are the wards, where nurses push computers on trolleys down wide corridors with brushed steel hand rails and metal splash protectors along the walls. Ninety per cent of patients have their own room with en suite bathroom, and some have a sofa bed for relatives wishing to stay the night. There are large, well equipped operating theatres and a digitised drugs dispensing system that allows hospital staff to withdraw stock by tapping the name and quantity into a screen and automatically orders new stocks when supplies run low.

Built just over 10 years ago, it is a model of modern French hospital management. It replaced five old institutions and groups together three hospitals, coordinating the resources, facilities, and expertise of each to provide efficient, top quality care for the 600 000 residents of south western Paris. The hospital opened in 2000, the same year that the World Health Organization announced that France had the best health system in the world.1

The only problem is that the …

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