Warning over lack of pediatricians

Not enough graduates are entering the profession to replace retirees

France has among the highest birth rates in Europe but the number of pediatricians is three times below the EU average

THE FRENCH health system is struggling to cope with a shortage of pediatricians, because not enough graduates are entering the profession to replace those who retire.

While new figures released this week show France has among the highest birth rates in Europe, with 2.01 children per women, the number of specialist pediatricians is in sharp decline.

More than 130,000 doctors and patients have signed a petition calling on the health ministry to "act before it is too late".

The Association Française de Pédiatrie Ambulatoire (Afpa) says there is one pediatrician for every 6,000 children in France, three times less than the European average and eight times lower than the rate in Italy.

The group says there is no shortage of medical students interested in the specialism, but 600 new recruits are needed each year to keep the numbers stable and places for new graduates are currently limited to 250 per year.

There are also large discrepancies from one area to the next, because independent pediatricians prefer to set up practice in large towns. The Haute-Loire is one of the worst affected areas, with just one pediatrician covering the whole department.

The problem is worsening with time, as more pediatricians reach retirement age and students prefer to take a salaried job in a hospital.

Afpa is also calling for better recognition of the specialism. The organisation says that effective preventive work by a pediatrician - early diagnosis of problems and vaccinations - can reduce the strain on other parts of the health service, as children are less like to need hospitalisation.

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