NEWS

Athens has highest proportion of doctors per capita in Europe

In Athens alone, 2,000 doctors are unemployed or underemployed, earning as little as 500-700 euros a month. About 6,000 doctors have no specialization; long waits to begin specialization training forces medical graduates to look for work abroad, even if that means changing their original preferences. The temptation to emigrate is strong, since the salaries of hospital doctors in Britain are triple what they are here. However, of the 3,000 Greek doctors working in Britain, only 300-500 have specialized. The European Union has recently been focusing on the movement of doctors and nurses within its borders. A study carried out in Britain found that 25-30 percent of its medical personnel is from abroad. Of the 113,000 doctors in Britain in 2004, 76,700 had trained there, 30,000 in other European countries, Asia and Africa and 6,000 in Eastern Europe. Of the 32,000 nursing staff in 2005, 11,500 were from abroad and 1,040 of these from Eastern Europe. Concern for services In several countries, mostly in Eastern Europe, concern is mounting regarding the effects of doctors moving from low-paid areas to developed countries. According to Panayiotos Kontoleon, general secretary of the Athens-Piraeus Hospital Doctors’ Association, doctors go wherever the pay and working conditions are better, where they have family ties, or to neighboring countries. The British study showed that Polish doctors tended to go to Germany. Other countries with cross-border migration of doctors were Denmark and Sweden, Norway and Finland. Immigrant doctors are usually given high-risk posts or those with heavy workloads, such as emergency wards, psychiatric clinics or radiology. Only about 1 percent of foreign doctors get into surgery. Clearly unplanned movements of medical and nursing staff can be a potential threat to national health systems, and this is something EU authorities want to avert. The European Parliament recently ruled on unified regulations for health services in member states. Problem in provinces Athens has the highest proportion of doctors per population (one doctor for every 138 residents, compared to 475 in London) but there are serious shortcomings in the provinces, particularly Viotia, were there is only one doctor for every 1,490 people. Medical centers on the islands are understaffed and there is a lack of specialists, such as anesthetists. «I believe that it is a mistake not to have a plan for the movement of medical staff; at present this is done through private agencies. Something has to be done or else this country will become a outpost, with the outflow of doctors being followed by patients,» explained Kontoleon. In Britain, for example, there was the case of Yvonne Watts, a patient who had to go to France for a hip operation because of long delays at the National Health Service, which was forced to reimburse her for the cost of the operation after a European Court of Justice ruling.