Family doctors promise to solve family doctor shortage themselves

Le Vallikivi, head of the Estonian Family Medicine Association.
Le Vallikivi, head of the Estonian Family Medicine Association. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Family doctors' lobbying efforts managed to foil a plan by the Ministry of Social Affairs to obligate hospitals to temporarily treat people who do not have a family physician. Family doctors have promised to answer the question of who will be treating people without a local practitioner.

Empty family medicine offices are no longer a concern only in the periphery as county centers are also running out of family doctors. The Ministry of Social Affairs wanted to put local hospitals temporarily in charge of treating those who have lost their physician. Estonian family doctors managed to foil the plan with help from MPs.

"The reality we see is that county hospitals are often hard-pressed to perform their existing duties," said Le Vallikivi, head of the Estonian Family Medicine Association.

"If I get hit by a car crossing the road outside, no one from [the hospital] 800 meters from here will come in to weigh my babies or see Covid patients. Our [family medicine] center would still have to do those things somehow," Vallikivi said.

Family doctors met with MPs from different parties on numerous occasions to voice their concerns, with the clause eventually taken out draft legislation heading into its final reading Wednesday.

"It was the first time we had to talk to politicians this directly, while my hat comes off to them for understanding just what a Pandora's box the bill would have opened and how it would be no one's problem," Le Vallikivi explained.

Reform Party MP Tiiu Aro said she met with family doctors many times after finding the ministry's proposed solution a little peculiar from the first. But what could be a better solution?

"Family doctors, including department chair, professor Ruth Kalda who also took part in negotiations. Said that they will have a set of proposals for how they can help the people in question," Aro said.

"It cannot be a case of we do what you want. You need to come up with solutions for a way out of the situation," she added.

Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center Party) said that the hospital would have been a last resort measure in cases where no replacement can be found.

"Family doctors will try to assume the obligation and responsibility, including family medicine centers of which there will soon be more than 50. Therefore, it will remain an inner regulation matter of the family medicine system," the minister said, adding that the details of how to help people who no longer have a family doctor still need to be agreed.

Estonia has 786 family medicine practice lists 53 of which are being serviced by a temporary replacement. Every other family doctor in Estonia is over 60 years of age.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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