France’s medical deserts ‘pushing more GPs to turn away new patients’

Nearly four-in-five independent GPs in France said there were not enough fellow doctors in their area

The majority of GPs in France say there is not even medical provision in their area, and say they have been forced to stop taking on new patients
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Article published May 26, 2023

Around two-thirds of GPs say France's ‘medical deserts’ problem is forcing them to refuse new patients.

They say a lack of sufficient doctors in their area, combined with strong demand, is causing tensions.

That was one of the key results from a study of independent GPs published by the French government’s research and statistics bureau, la Direction de la recherche, des études, de l'évaluation et des statistiques (Drees).

It revealed that in 2022 65% of respondents had had to refuse to take on new patients as their médecin traitant (personal GP) because a lack of doctors in their area was causing too much demand. This was up from 53% in 2019.

Nearly four-in-five (78%) said there were not enough other doctors in their area, up from 67% three years ago.

This rise has mainly been caused by a sharp rise in the number of doctors who feel provision is ‘very insufficient’. This has risen from 22% in 2019 to 34% in 2022.

In the report, Drees wrote: “The percentage of doctors who say they are unable to follow up with their patients regularly has also risen from 40% in 2019 to 44% in 2022.”

The report based its findings on two studies from the most recent investigation by the GP practice observatory, le Panel d’observation des pratiques et des conditions d’exercice en médecine générale.

This was carried out online, between January 5 and April 22, 2022, with more than 1,550 GPs participating.

‘Medical deserts’ a growing issue

The study comes amid growing concern over France’s ‘medical deserts’.

A medical desert is an area in which patients have trouble seeing a GP regularly, whether because they cannot get an appointment, there are not enough doctors, or because they live too far away from their nearest GP surgery.

The government defines the term specifically as an area in which patients have access to fewer than 2.5 consultations with a local GP per year on average.

The term can also be used to describe areas in which there are not enough GPs so patient time is very stretched. In this case, even patients who do get an appointment may find they do not have enough time to properly explain their problem and the GP does not have enough time to offer them a good level of care.

Read more: Seven questions about ‘medical deserts’ in France

One group of villages in Normandy has become so frustrated with the lack of doctor access that it has launched a new medical bus, the Doctobus, at a cost of €70,000. The bus visits the eight communes regularly and carries everything needed for GP appointments. It is currently staffed mainly by retired GPs.

Although the government is working on plans to reduce GPs’ workload and bring in more doctors, Health Minister François Braun has admitted that France may not see a significant increase in doctor numbers for another 10 years.

He admitted: “[This is] insufficient, even though we are improving year-on-year.”

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