A lack of doctors in rural areas is symbolic of the malaise that sparked the Yellow Vest movement and the subsequent Great Debate. RFI focuses on a small commune in Ballancourt-sur-Essonne, 47 kilometres south of Paris, where the last four general practitioners in the commune have little choice but to work with few resources.
It’s a similar story in a lot of far-flung communes throughout France though.
Situated between two roundabouts in the middle of a gloomy industrial zone, the office of doctors Sibi-Dureuil, Villeneuve and Bothner is empty of patients.
But not for long. It’s 08:40 and the telephone rings continuously.
“The phone starts at 7am, that’s a given,” explains Maguy Janus, the surgery secretary. Until midday she is on the frontline battling between the needs of employees and incessant calls from patients. She listens, evaluates and gives guidance.
“For those who call-in it’s usually urgent. So I had to harden myself, and learn to say no,” she confides. But these days, when I warn people that we are not taking-on new patients, people are not surprised.”
Pinned to a cork board, a poster informs the patients that the departure of Dr. Bothner is postponed until October 2019.
Only last year, the cabinet welcomed four new GPs. Things weren’t perfect, but they weren’t at their worst either. But then one of GPs left. The reason? Burn out.
On the map of the Regional Health Agency (ARS), the zone encompassing Ballancourt-sur-Essonne is coloured red. Like 84 other communes in the department, this small town of 7,500 inhabitants has become a “priority intervention zone”, one of those places where the ARS and the Health Insurance are actively seeking new GPs.
Every newcomer is offered a moving package of €50,000 and a monthly of €6,900 gross for two years. The only conditions; practice four days per week, carry out 165 consultations per month and stay in the job for five years.
But in a year, nothing has changed in Ballancourt-sur-Essonne. “These incentives have no impact on recruitment,” says Renaud Sibi-Dureuil. The fact is that Western medicine and related studies are no longer popular with young people.
“The cliché of the doctor whose wife stays at home has passed. Now, one settles where one’s spouse can also find work,” says Dr. Villeneuve.
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