Primary care in Spain back to normal with even fewer doctors

by Lorraine Williamson
primary care

Primary care in Spain is slowly returning tonormal”. Yet health centres now have to make do with far fewer doctors than before the pandemic. A problem that will only get worse in the coming years if action is not taken. 

During the latest peak of the corona pandemic, primary care collapsed completely. Many doctors themselves became infected with the virus, resulting in significantly less staff. Furthermore, the staff that was there worked frequent and long shifts. Many healthcare professionals claim that this was the most intense period of their career. 

Spanish health centres face weeks of waiting times 

Now that everything is slowly returning to normal, the schedules are acceptable again. However, in many health centres, there are still weeks of waiting times due to a large amount of delayed care. The problem, however, is that primary care was already faltering before the pandemic. 

Primary care in Spain has fewer doctors than before the pandemic 

This conclusion was drawn after an investigation in January 2022 by the Ministry of Health. Between 2018 and 2021, the number of primary care physicians decreased by 2.14%, representing around 1,000 physicians. Trade unions and medical associations are sounding the alarm because this trend is causing the quality of care to deteriorate if no action is taken. 

The root of this problem is that many doctors have retired and their positions are not being filled. This phenomenon has accelerated during the pandemic: Doctors who normally planned to work until the age of 70 decided en masse to retire earlier, even at the expense of their financial situation. This, combined with doctors who got covid themselves and still have not recovered, means that health centres are faced with weeks of waiting times. 

Unfilled vacancies in health centres far outside Spanish cities 

The situation is worse in health centres far outside the major cities than in similar centres in the city. Many care centers that are further away from the city are struggling with unfilled vacancies. Spanish health care associations are trying to make the vacancies at these types of centers more attractive to newly graduated doctors. However, the reality is that these young doctors are more likely to take up a job for the same position in their own city or in a private clinic. Because, why make things difficult when there is also a job nearby for the taking? 

The problem will get bigger in Spain in the coming years 

The current problem in primary care is far from being solved. In fact, it will only get worse in the coming years as one in three GPs and one in four pediatricians will retire. The average age of (GP) doctors is quite high and after research by Public Health, it does not seem that all these open positions will be filled in a significant time. 

Government discusses plan with Spanish regions 

According to experts, the solution lies in making more financial resources available. The Ministry of Health has a plan for primary care with an investment of €177 million. This amount must be supplemented with investments from the Spanish regional authorities themselves. Each autonomous community must submit its own plan to the Ministry before April. According to medical unions, this is a good step forward, but more good plans were initiated in the past that were never implemented. 

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