Faced with the shortage of GPs in certain areas of the country, patients are having great difficulty finding a new GP. This is the case of Coralie, Mark and Daniel, who are deeply concerned about the health status and medical follow-up of their loved ones. How do we explain this blatant lack of specialists in Wallonia and Brussels?
General practitioners are gradually becoming rarer and this is not new. As we told you last January, a town like Berloese in the Liege countryside found itself without a doctor, whereas there were four a few years ago.
Finding a new primary care physician can be an especially daunting task. GPs are often overburdened and no longer accepting new patients in several areas of the country. For patients, going to another municipality for a medical consultation is also not easy.
in Soigniesin Hainaut County, Coralie contacted our editorial team via the orange button alerting us to testify about this issue.
After the attending physician moved, she said she could not find a GP near her home.
“I feel rejected, they can still listen to me or advise me on what to do”says the 21-year-old student.
“I have had health problems for several years now so I need a doctor for regular follow-up, so that I don’t have to explain everything every time. Sometimes they can’t get my medical file back. I have stomach problems due to long, displaced vertebrae in my back , … I suffer from migraine attacks and kidney problems … “
Coralie says she has called several doctors in her area. She often received the same answer, which worries her.
“I called all the neighboring towns and they don’t take new patients. I call back and they always tell me the same thing. They seem to have file quotas and they no longer know how to receive new patients. Even answering a question, they don’t know.
After several unsuccessful calls, I found a temporary solution because it was inconvenient.
“Recently, I finally found a doctor away from home. I don’t know how to get around when I want to. My parents own a car but they work too. I get on the bus that doesn’t stop in front of the doctor, so it’s complicated. The doctor is in Louvignies, a 10-minute drive from Soignies. I go to the doctor at least once a week for the necessary checkups. It is surprising that you do not find a doctor so easily close to home.”
Family doctors, who have been around for 40 years, decided to end their careers at the same time
near Brussels Need Over HempikMark (68) and Daniel (74) also wanted to highlight this problem.
The two brothers worry about their 94-year-old mother and the long-term for them.
“Our family doctors, who have been there for 40 years, have decided to end their careers. They are both in the same office. And they will stop at the same time,” Daniel says. “We don’t have a doctor despite phone calls to many doctors who live in the area. Nobody accepts us. When I say ‘we’, I think of the residents, especially us personally. Little by little we’re going to go missing our doctors.. plus the shortage.” No doctor can come to patients’ homes.”
“For the elderly, how do I get medicine? How do I get a prescription?” , asks Mark, an ex-cop. “Right now, when we tell the town doctors we’re a new client, they don’t accept us anymore because they’re tired. They don’t come home anymore.”
And to add: “Our 94-year-old mother is lucky that our whole family is mobilizing to help her go to the doctor. But what do people do on their own?” , Daniel adds.
We have to qualify when we talk about imperfection
After these various testimonials, can we really talk about a shortage of GPs in Wallonia and Brussels? Is it likely to get worse? For Paul de Monck, president of the Belgian Group of General Practitioners (GBO), it is “obvious” that the two regions face a shortage of GPs.
“There is a shortage of GPs and there will be more shortages of them in the coming years because by the time the actions we take to close that gap are taken, we are still heading towards a serious shortage of more than what we already know today. We have to qualify when we talk about imperfection. Perhaps in the absolute number of doctors, we can say that there are enough doctors, if we count the number of doctors for each population. This is not the question, it is more like “Where is it distributed?”. There are regions, villages, counties, towns and cities that are already in short supply today. The evidence is that many GPs say they are no longer able to accept new patients. The problem is really real.”
Where does the problem come from?
Paul de Monck puts his finger on training as well as the evolution of the profession in recent years. According to him, very few general practitioners graduate each year.
“We have come to this because we have not sufficiently taken into account the real needs. We have not trained enough general practitioners. We definitely have to raise the bar. There is a planning committee recently created at the Wallonia Federation-Brussels level. We came to the conclusion that it is necessary to train 50 % of general practitioners are at the level of medical studies. Unfortunately, the Commission has agreed to train 43%. We say it will be too little.”
Previously, young doctors settled in places where there was not yet a colleague on the site.
“Today, it is the opposite. Young doctors are settling where there is no shortage of doctors because otherwise they risk confusion. They no longer want to sacrifice their lives for general medicine through unfeasible working hours and they are right. Find places where the burden of medical care is not Heavy. That’s what changed.”
What are the problem areas?
Of the 262 municipalities in the Walloon region, more than 2/3 have a relative or absolute deficiency (see map below). “Sometimes it is not the municipality as a whole that is involved, but by region”defines the Belgian Group of General Practitioners (GBO). “Some elderly and retired doctors are not replaced. But a doctor leaving means more than 1,000 patients find themselves without a doctor. Where would they go if he was not replaced?”
How to attract doctors in less available areas?
Paul de Monk asks about Red carpet publishing. “Some municipalities say they have a medical home where they can place several doctors. This can be a factor that attracts young doctors.”
What do the doctors think of this situation? Our Emily General Practitioner at Schaerbeek for 10 years. At the Jean Jaures medical home where she practices her profession, she tells how the situation has developed.
“When I joined the team of two doctors who were here, we had time for many things, to talk about patients calmly, to take calls in person,…”you remember.
“But we quickly got overwhelmed and hired a secretary. Within a few years, we went from a team of 3 doctors to 7 doctors and 3 receptionists. We have a lot of orders and residents need an efficient and available first line. What we’ve noticed is that over the years, We’ve had more orders. This has increased over the past two years, with the spread of coronavirus. We have fewer GPs who have been discharged compared to the number of GPs who have been discharged from studies before.”
Emily notes that fewer young doctors are settling down near her clinic. For those who have decided to take the initiative, the agenda is filling up by leaps and bounds.
“We see that in the neighbourhood, there are fewer young people who settle, and when they settle, they are quickly filled in terms of their availability. Perhaps there is a shortage of doctors compared to the influx of new patients arriving in Brussels, where there is a high turnover of the population.”
And to add: “We are also another generation of GPs. We are no longer really in the generation where we worked 14 hours a day, where there was a helping husband in the house. We consider family life to be respected. Right now, we are on time all the time. We start our day at 8:30 in the morning and end at 7:30 in the evening with few breaks. It is very difficult to combine private life with our work as an aspect of the profession.”
The doctor also regrets that he is no longer able to practice his profession as he sees fit.
“Our way of working is to take people’s time, and at that time, we didn’t have the comfort as before because we had so many appointment requests. It’s very frustrating not being able to support patients anymore. It’s hard to say no because that’s the gist Our work We have a few general colleagues available to help us It’s complicated to put everything together I don’t expect to be under much pressure before starting this job They are looking for reinforcements to help us The profession may not be attractive in the current circumstances General practitioners want to maintain quality of life.”