New plan to serve areas of France without doctors

An association has set up three medical centres and hopes to have 150 eventually

Many areas of France suffer from a shortage of doctors

An association of doctors has set up a new system of health centres to bring medical care to areas where it is lacking.

The doctors, who together form an association called Médecins Solidaires, have so far set up three new medical centres providing seven-day service. They hope to set up 150 health centres in the future.

The first three of the group's health centres in Creuse and Centre-Val de Loire provide care via a rota of doctors who are paid a flat rate of €1,000 net a week, and given free accommodation and transport costs.

Patients who sign up with the medical centres give the building as their médecin traitant, or GP.

Under rules designed to cut medical costs, people have to see their assigned médecin traitant before consulting with most specialists in order to have the costs reimbursed by the state.

There are only a few health specialisations where this does not apply, notably for eye doctors and skin specialists.

A solution to France's 'medical deserts'?

“It is a change for the patients and the doctors because it is unlikely that patients will see the same doctor twice in a row,” Magali Malauzat, the association’s spokesperson told The Connexion.

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

“But part of the deal with the doctors is that they take very full notes so the next doctor to see the patient will be fully briefed, and the time for consultations is relatively long, 20 minutes, so that should not be a problem.”

She said the association was set up by a group of young doctors in their 30s, who put their heads together to try and find a solution to so-called ‘medical deserts’ (déserts medicaux).

Areas without doctors have grown in recent years, mainly in rural areas but also in the poorer suburbs of cities such as Paris.

Many reasons have been given for the déserts medicaux including young doctors not being able to raise enough money to set themselves up with the statute of profession libérale, which often involves owning their practice.

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Rural doctors in France usually work long hours with few holidays, something which deters many young doctors, who prefer to work for the state in hospitals with salaried status, holidays and good pensions.

There is also a shortage of doctors being trained, with university hospitals saying government initiatives to get them to train more doctors are not being backed by the necessary funding for this to happen.

Ms Malauzat said the doctors who work with the association come from all sorts of backgrounds.

“Some are newly retired, and feel they still have more to give, some are young and feeling their way around the system before deciding what they want to do,” she said.

“Our first two medical centres in Creuse department has doctors from all over France, and even from neighbouring countries.”

The association is largely funded by grants from the state, region and local authorities to help it set up the medical centres. However, once they are operational, patient consultation fees should cover running costs.

Local authorities provide the buildings – the shortage of doctors is an issue which municipal councils have been trying to solve for years.

Doctors from abroad

Médecins Solidaires is just one of a variety of initiatives to make it easier to see a GP.

In Charente, for example, the department has set up its own health centre in two towns where there had been no medical presence for 10 years, employing doctors as salaried workers, and providing them with secretarial services and practices to work from. 

Other initiatives have seen local councils advertising for doctors in other countries - Romania and Spain have both been favourites - and offering financial and practical help for doctors from those countries to move to France.

Ms Malauzat said patients can also help: “If your family doctor is about to retire and there is no one to replace them, make a fuss,” she said.

“Contact us and explain the situation and tell the local council about us so they can think about co-operating to set up a medical centre.

“The core message is that we think it is important that everyone should have access to good medical care.”