Shortfall of Doctors

Health system facing shortfall of doctors

March 5th 2009
El Pais A. E., Madrid

Having to wait a few days to see a doctor or a few weeks to see a specialist, which is common in Spain today, will seem like prompt service within a few years if action is not taken to reverse a predicted shortfall in the number of medical professionals, new Health Ministry figures suggest.

By 2025, Spain will lack 25,000 doctors, up from a shortage of 3,200 at present, a trend that, when combined with the increased healthcare demands of an aging population, will put intense strain on the decentralized public healthcare system. The figures, part of a Health Ministry study published Wednesday, call for immediate action to encourage students to study medicine in university, boost the number of foreign doctorsworking here and provide incentives for Spanish doctors working abroad to return to practice at home, Health Minister Bernat Soria said. “We still have time to act,” he told reporters in a news conference.

However, regional health ministers say the study only confirms what they have been saying for years. “There is a lack of doctors… We need more now, not in 2012,” said Fernando Lamata, the head of healthcare in the Castilla-La Mancha region.

A major part of the problem is a tendency toward fewer students of medicine at Spanish universities. “It is incomprehensible that there are fewer students coming out of universities than the number of places for new doctors available for them.We have to urgently increase the number of students of medicine,” Soria noted. The deficit has so far been compensated by more foreign doctors coming to Spain after the introduction of legislation harmonizing university degrees with other countries. Even so, the number of doctors currently practicing in Spain is around two percent below the total number of places available in the public health care system, a shortfall that the Health Ministry study predicts will to rise to five percent by 2015 and 14 percent by 2025.

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