France

French mayors warn that health care in rural areas is deteriorating steadily

The number of French rural areas without doctors rose from 91 in 2010 to 148 in 2017, an increase of 62%.
The number of French rural areas without doctors rose from 91 in 2010 to 148 in 2017, an increase of 62%. © AFP/Thierry Zoccolan

The Rural Mayors of France organisation (AMRF) warned on Thursday about the "deterioration" of medical services after the publication of a study revealing an "access to care of lower quality in rural areas than the average for French territories".

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The document produced by geographer Emmanuel Vigneron, a professor at Montpellier university and a specialist in the territorial approach to health, stresses that the density per 1,000 inhabitants for all categories of doctors "is systematically lower in the countryside than in built up urban areas".

The number of specialists is even half of those found "in extreme rural departments".

This trend has become more pronounced in recent years. The study points out that the number of villages without doctors increased from 91 in 2010 to 148 in 2017, an increase of 62%.

Medical services have also fallen by more than a third in 30% of all villages over the same period.

"We are only at the beginning of the crisis. If nothing is done, we are really heading for disaster," reacted Dominique Dhumeaux, first vice-president of the Rural Mayors of France organisation (AMRF).

"This difficulty of access to healthcare is unsustainable. I can hardly imagine how our society will absorb this profound injustice."

More young doctors in the cities

Moreover, "more than half of the doctors in rural areas are over 55 years old and a good number are already well over 70", stresses Dominique Dhumeaux, who points out that "there are many more young doctors in the cities".

Last year, the AMRF had published two other studies. The first revealed that life expectancy in the countryside has been deteriorating since the early 2000s compared to the cities.

The second found that people in rural areas "consume 20% less hospital care than those in cities".

The vice-president of the AMRF stressed the existence of a "rather tenuous link between care, life expectancy and the presence of doctors in a territory".

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