French President Francois Hollande demanded an inquiry Saturday after a mother lost her baby in giving birth in a car on her way to hospital because the clinic closer to her home had been closed in a health care shake-up.
"No French person should be more than 30 minutes from emergency care," Hollande said, adding that "medical deserts" in rural areas were unacceptable.
The baby's death occurred Friday in southwestern France's Lot region as the mother and her partner were trying to get to a hospital more than an hour from their home near the town of Figeac.
They were forced to stop on a motorway as the birth began and the child died soon afterwards.
The local maternity clinic at Figeac had been closed in 2009 despite warnings from doctors and hospital staff as part of a policy to concentrate care in more modern establishments, often in or on the edge of major cities.
A national lobby group supporting neighbourhood hospitals called Saturday for a moratorium on the closure of maternity units.
Its president, Michel Antony, said that two-thirds of such units across France had been closed in the past 20 years.
"We are faced with the dominant ideology that concentrating is the solution, which is wrong," he told AFP.
"If another maternity clinic had been kept in the Lot, yesterday's drama would not have happened."
[Image by the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs via Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]