TALLINN - While there has been talk of a crisis in the family doctor system for the last ten years, officials have now admitted that the situation will worsen in the near future and the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs is preparing for a real crisis unless the doctors who are about to retire can be replaced, the English-language online news portal of public broadcaster ERR reports.
The family doctors of one fifth of the population in Estonia are currently entitled to retire immediately. While so far, state officials and ministers of social affairs have been counting on modern health centers to alleviate the crisis, they now admit it might not be enough.
Altogether 171 family doctors in Estonia are presently aged over 65 and the average age of the said doctors in some counties is over 60, which has prompted the need for an emergency plan. To ensure continued support in case of a bleakest scenario if all family doctors of pensionable age should indeed retire, the Ministry of Social Affairs will impose on hospitals an obligation to shoulder the burden.
Heli Paluste, head of the health care unit of the Ministry of Social Affairs' department of health system development, said that this is a crisis measure, however.
"It would naturally be preferable if we found a family doctor or at least a substitute doctor, but if we don't and we find ourselves in a situation where the roster doesn't even have a substitute doctor, then we must nonetheless provide people with help; we cannot have a situation where their only option is to go to the ER for emergency care," Paluste said, adding that neither family doctors nor hospitals are happy with the solution, however.
An idea to start paying young doctors a bonus in order to motivate them to work at smaller health centers is being weighed as well as an option for family doctors to work part time while offering young doctors an opportunity to be mentored by an experienced doctor during their first year of practice.
The Health Board has recently been reported to pressure family doctors into increasing their rosters by accepting new patients, which has lead to doctors burning out and leaving their profession, as a result of which, workload is further increased for those who remain in family practice.