Clare Chapman
Phone: + 43 - 1 - 811 40 - 319
Wed, 12.03.2003
pte20030312026 Health/Medicine
Pressbox Pressbox
Switzerland faces severe shortage of doctors
Changes in system discouraging new medical students

Bern (pte026/12.03.2003/11:47) - Swiss doctors have warned of major staff shortages in the future as a result of planned changes in the way health care is administered in the Alpine Republic.

Head of the Swiss Association of Doctors (VSAO) in Bern, Rosmarie Glauser, told Reuters Health the country's existing shortage of doctors was being exacerbated as a result of shortages elsewhere - and added they were now appealing to the country's politicians to take hard action to stop the number of doctors declining further.

Germany alone currently needs more than 15,000 doctors to fill urgent positions in hospitals and health practices and the VSAO says the general shortfall in Europe as a whole will have serious consequences for the future.

Glauser said: "For a number of years there haven't been enough Swiss doctors to fill positions in the country's hospitals and if something isn't done soon there will also be a lack of GPs. In the past we had the benefit of taking doctors from neighbouring countries to fill the gaps, but now those countries do not have enough medical staff to take care of their own health needs."

She also said it was unlikely the situation would improve in the future as the number of new students choosing to study medicine in Switzerland was on the decline. She said that since 1997 the total number of students studying medicine each year had dropped by 800 to 7,000.

Glauser blamed the lack of social prestige that now came with the medical profession and the worsening prospects for the future as the main reasons for the problem. She said that as well as the long hours doctors faced, study courses were also longer and physicians faced increasing amounts of paperwork as part of their day-to-day duties.

Katharina Gasser, co-president of the VSAO, told Reuters Health that, despite the current developments, health insurers and many politicians were not helping by pressing for changes to the system that would only serve to worsen the decline.

Swiss health insurers for example who are currently forced by law to have contracts with doctors want this system to end and they are being supported by many of the country's liberal politicians. The insurers say they should have more say in choosing which doctors they work with. But according to the VSAO, this means doctors who could not agree on a contract with a health insurer would effectively be forbidden to practice medicine.

A second measure being pushed forward by MPs that the VSAO says will also reduce the number of doctors is a restriction on the number of GPs allowed to open their own surgery.

Gasser said with these measures the insurers and politicians hoped to reduce costs. But she told Reuters Health: "These measures would not reduce escalating health costs because the doctors are not responsible for the rise in the first place, and it will only result in poorer health services for the patient."

Oliver Adam, vice-President of the VSAO, said it was much more important to avoid unnecessary services and improve the health sector rather than reduce the number of doctors. The VSAO favours the introduction of patient chip cards, which would carry patient details, and reduce unnecessary administration costs.

Submitter: pressetext.europe
Contact: Clare Chapman
Phone: + 43 - 1 - 811 40 - 319