The agony of France’s medical deserts

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Many of France’s rural and semi-rural regions have for years been blighted by the gradual but steady decline in the numbers of local doctors, notably general practitioners. The problem is now so acute in some areas that it is virtually impossible for patients, including the seriously ill, to receive proper medical treatment. That is the case in the Seine-et-Marne département (county) which stretches south-east from Paris. Caroline Coq-Chodorge travelled to Souppes-sur-Loing, a town with a population of 6,000 that sits on the southern edge of the département, where the crisis is typical of the medical ‘desertification’ witnessed across France. Facing the imminent loss of all remaining medical professionals, the municipal authorities are planning to fork out 1 million euros in a desperate attempt to attract new doctors, even though healthcare is not their brief.

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In the bar La République which stands on the square of the same name in Souppes-sur-Loing, Céline Rigault needed little encouragement to vent her exasperation: "My doctor has retired,” she said, “since then it has been impossible to find a new one. We went through the whole phone book, we called all the GPs in a 20-kilometre radius. They are all overbooked." Her recourse is to go to the hospital emergency unit in nearby Nemours, but the waiting time there is long. Taking her two children to the paediatrician in Fontainebleau is a 45-minute drive.