How does your area of France fare for delay to see a doctor?

Some departments are in particular trouble when it comes to waiting times for specialists

Waits to see GPs and specialists can vary considerably across France depending on the location and the speciality required
Published Last updated

There is noticeable inequality in how quickly people can get a GP or specialist appointment in different areas of France, a new report has found, with 14 departments in major difficulty.

The study by the Fondation Jean Jaurès, is based on 2023 data from online appointment service Doctolib and was published on April 24.

It found that on average nationwide, patients need to wait around:

  • Three days to see a GP

  • Seven days for a paediatrician, midwife, physiotherapist, or dentist

  • 25 days to see an ophthalmologist, psychiatrist, or gynaecologist

  • 36 days for a dermatologist

  • 42 days to see a cardiologist

The authors of the report said that this shows the sometimes-stark difference in wait times between types of doctors, but also wrote that the figures are “less alarmist than patient feelings” on the issue would suggest.

The study also showed that the median waiting times for appointments “changed little or not at all” between 2021 and 2023, with the situation neither improving nor worsening.

It found that mostly - especially for GPs - most appointments are scheduled within “reasonable” timescales, said Dr Paul Frappé, a contributor to the study, a GP in Saint-Etienne, and president of the Collège de la médecine générale, to Le Monde.

Percentage of appointments made in the past 48 hours (a two-day wait)

  • GPs: 41%

  • Paediatricians: 34%

  • Dentists: 15%

  • Gynaecologists: 13% 

  • Ophthalmologists: 11%

  • Dermatologists: 10%

Dr Frappé did admit that some patients, who try to “request an appointment for ‘non-urgent’ needs will not recognise these figures”. He also said that areas of France that are considered to be ‘medical deserts’ could see vastly different delays.

More information, including an interactive departmental map showing wait times, can be found on FranceInfo.

You can click the drop down menu on the top left-hand side of the map to choose between different specialists, to see how their wait times vary.

Geographical disparities

Some areas of the country have to wait much longer for an appointment than others, the report also found.

It identified 14 departments that should be considered “in the red” (in trouble), because median access to at least three specialities are twice as long as (or longer than) the national figures.

These are: Gers, Saône-et-Loire, Nièvre, Territoire de Belfort, Loiret, Cher, Deux-Sèvres, Ardèche, Eure, Calvados, Manche, Loire-Atlantique, Côtes-d'Armor, and Pas-de-Calais.

Many of these departments are in rural areas, and many have areas that have already been identified as ‘medical deserts’, or having a shortage of doctors.

Read also: Seven questions about ‘medical deserts’ in France
Read also: Eight facts to understand France’s issue of ‘medical deserts’ 

Dermatology, ophthalmology, and cardiology: Longest waits

Waits for dermatology appointments can vary considerably, with the median delay varying from eight to 98 days between areas. 

Similarly, for ophthalmology, waits varied from six days to as long as 123 days (around four months). Half of patients saw an ophthalmologist within a month, but most have to wait two months or longer.

While his discipline has one of the longest waits, ophthalmologist Thierry Bour, from Metz - who is also the former president of the Syndicat des ophtalmologistes de France - told Le Monde that the situation was better than he had feared.

“We might have expected worse, after the Covid-19 crisis and the strong need to catch up on care, which came on top of growing demand from an ageing population," he said. He also said that more practitioners would be entering the field soon, as the number of trainees had risen in the past 15 years.

He also said that just 2-3% of situations in ophthalmology are emergencies, and just 10% require very rapid attention.

In contrast, there appears to be less optimism in the field of dermatology (in which 2,900 of the country’s 3,700 practitioners are self-employed).

Luc Sulimovic, president of the Syndicat national des dermatologues-vénéréologues said: "It's obvious that there are currently delays in treatment, and we see patients who have been waiting for care for a long time.”

He said that there needs to be more jobs created for six-year medical students, and the creation of more “specialist care teams” who can respond to the most urgent needs. Currently, only four regions have such teams: Ile-de-France, Corsica, Brittany, and Hauts-de-France.

Cardiology is in an even more precarious situation, with the median wait having increased from 33 to 43 days over the past two years.

In 90% of departments, patients need to wait more than a month for an appointment, with some having to wait more than two months in the most rural areas.

Cardiologist Dr Marc Villaceque from Nîmes, president of le Conseil national professionnel cardio-vasculaire, who also contributed to the report, said that he was not surprised to hear that delays are worsening in cardiology. 

He said that the waits were caused by: 

  • Increased cases of patients suffering with cardiovascular disease (up 2.5% per year)

  • The decline in the number of specialists. There are currently 6,200 nationwide, two-thirds of whom are self-employed.

He did, however, say that the availability of cardiology figures was an encouraging sign that independent specialists are “fully involved” in care.

He also said that “the study doesn't show that the healthcare system is effective in dealing with acute situations, such as a patient having a heart attack” (in contrast to patients who need to see a cardiologist for a non-emergency).

Read also: How can I find out which parts of France are lacking doctors? 

GPs, physios and midwives: Shortest waits

Nationwide - in terms of waits for appointments - it is still easier to see a: 

  • GP: Median waits vary from two to seven days across the country

  • Physiotherapist: From one to 13 days

  • Midwife: from seven to 30 days

Read also: My experience of ‘medical deserts’ in rural France
Read also: Explainer: French healthcare terms that are useful to know

Data limited but covers many specialties

The data from Doctolib includes appointment information for 70,000 self-employed healthcare professionals on the Doctolib services (estimated to be between 30% and 50% of self-employed doctors), and 200 million appointments booked on the platform (including five million teleconsultations). 

Similarly, departments that have fewer than five specialists in a given field were not counted for that discipline. This means that in these areas, waits may be even longer than the figures suggest.

The report therefore acknowledges that it is only a “partial snapshot” of the state of healthcare in France, as it does not include appointments with practitioners who are not on the Doctolib platform, nor patients who tried to book an appointment, but gave up without booking anything.

However, the data is unusually wide in terms of the specialties it covers, including paediatricians, dentists, midwives, physiotherapists, ophthalmologists, psychiatrists, cardiologists, dermatologists, and gynaecologists.