Feeling a bit hoarse? See a vet, says mayor
Vets should replace doctors where GPs are an increasing rarity, a politician claimed yesterday.
Despite the fact that France is often cited as having one of the best health systems in the world, a survey has revealed a dearth of doctors in the countryside.
Francoise Tenenbaum, the vice-president of Burgundy's regional council, said she had come up with a "revolution" that could solve the shortage.
"Why not call on vets?" said the socialist politician and deputy mayor of Dijon. "By offering them an extra year's training, they could intervene in medical centres. It's sub-medicine, you may say, but in a rural milieu I'm sure it would be well accepted."
She said vets would intervene in emergencies only while waiting for a qualified GP to arrive.
However, the head of Burgundy's professional body for vets, Gerard Vignault, said the idea was "unrealistic and dangerous" because vets were "not at all competent to carry out human medicine".
"It would be a step backwards in care. It would take us back to the 19th Century instead of the cutting-edge medical practices of the present," he said.
Monique Cavalier, from Burgundy's regional health agency, said: "Today it is absolutely unthinkable. The rules are clear; they are there so that we have doctors in rural zones."
Alain Houpert, a Burgundy councillor from the rival conservative UMP party, said the suggestion was "shocking".
"Does Madame Tenenbaum know that in case of a fracture, the vet knows only one remedy: a (lethal) injection or the slaughterhouse? That is a curious way of treating people."
Media commentators picked up on the issue, with one on France Info radio saying: "When one has a intestinal pain, one often calls it a plumbing problem. Does that mean in that case one should call the plumber?"
But Jean-Pierre Mouraux, of the medical board of Burgundy's Cote d'Or area, said the suggestion shone a salutary light on the growing problem and should be taken with some "humour".
"It's a paving slab thrown into the pond and it's getting the ducks moving," he said. "One must see the good intentions behind it."
A study by the French medical board found that rural areas had problems attracting doctors -- with the worst-affected being the northern region of Picardy, which has 239 doctors per 100,000 inhabitants. Increasingly, regions rely on foreign doctors, with 44pc of those in Picardy drafted in from abroad.
Xavier Bertrand, the health minister, blamed personnel shortages on a government decision to cut medical-student entries in the 1990s. (© Daily Telegraph, London)