Reader Question: Where is the lack of doctors most severe in France? We plan to move and have heard there are issues but how do we find out which specific areas? Is all of France affected?
Around a third of people in France live in a so-called ‘medical desert’, according to a recent report by the Senate.
‘Medical desert’ is the term commonly used to describe parts of the country where there is a relative lack of doctors and inhabitants often have to wait a long time or travel to find a healthcare specialists.
The problem predominantly affects rural areas but also certain zones surrounding major cities.
Ile-de-France is the most badly affected region despite Paris itself being well served. Some 62.4% of people in the region have difficulties accessing care.
The same Senate report revealed the following lists of departments with the most doctors (GPs and specialists) per inhabitant, and those with the fewest.
Read more: Eight facts to understand France’s issue of ‘medical deserts’
The departments with the most doctors in relation to the population were as of January 2021: Paris, Hautes-Alpes, Rhône, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Hérault, Gironde, Haute-Garonne, Côte-d’Or and Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
Those with the fewest doctors were: Mayotte, Eure, Ain, Mayenne, Eure-et-Loir, Meuse, Seine-et-Marne, Indre, Oise, Cher.
The differences can be even more stark when focusing on certain specialisms.
There are 1.7 ophthalmologists per 100,000 inhabitants in Haute Marne, for example, compared to 9.6 in Pyrénées Atlantiques, according to the Conseil National de l'Ordre des Médecins (CNOM) professional body’s yearly demographic atlas for 2022.
The atlas shows (page 63) that areas with the most GPs in relation to the density of the local population (shown in darker colours by Cnom) are mainly found along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, and the borders with Spain and Italy.
The areas most affected by a lack of doctors are found in the centre and north of the country.
For a more detailed look at these disparities, consumer group UFC-Que Choisir has developed an interactive map allowing users to compare the ease of access to healthcare at the level of communes.
Put in an area’s postcode and choose a specialism. Select tarif de la sécurité sociale if you only want to search according to doctors who charge the basic state rates as opposed to including those charging dépassemements (additional fees).
The situation is not likely to improve any time soon, with more doctors due to retire. The average doctor in France is 57 years old.
To combat this issue, parliament recently passed a new law requiring all fourth-year medical students to complete a year's internship in a medical desert.
My experience of ‘medical deserts’ in rural France