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Exodus of Polish doctors could threaten health system

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 27 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1280
  1. Jane Burgermeister
  1. Vienna

    An exodus of young Polish doctors to western European countries is set to take place with the country's accession to the European Union, the Polish Chamber of Physicians has warned.

    An internet opinion survey on a doctor's website published in the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza found that a third of all Polish doctors between 25 and 35 years of age—or 10 000 doctors—plan to work in western European countries.

    Marek Szweczynski from the Polish Chamber of Physicians said that an exodus of doctors on this scale could jeopardise the country's health system.

    “We welcome the chance doctors now have to gain experience abroad, but if the movement is too massive then it will be a serious threat to our health system,” he said.

    He said that a significant factor in the decision by young doctors to seek work in western European countries was poor pay. Polish doctors are paid an average of 29 000 zloty (£4200; $7500; €6200) a year but can earn 10 times as much in countries such as Germany.

    In addition, chronic underfunding of Poland's health system, corruption, scandals, and strikes have also led to demoralisation among the country's medical staff.

    “We expect not only Polish doctors but also patients to go to western Europe for treatment as they become more aware of the new regulations,” he said.

    Mr Szweczynski criticised western European countries for actively recruiting Polish medical staff.

    “We see a lot of advertisements in our chamber's monthly newspaper, especially from agencies in the United Kingdom, which is also the most popular destination in view of the open labour market. Generally, we in the chamber are not in favour of these advertisements. Recruiting our doctors is a good solution for western European countries but not for us,” he said.

    His concerns were echoed by doctors in Germany, one of the countries—along with Sweden, Denmark, and Norway—that is also actively seeking to recruit doctors from Poland and other eastern European countries.

    “I share the worries of the Polish Chamber of Physicians. Migration cannot mean maintaining our health system at the cost of the Polish people. We have to tackle the structural deficits here in Germany,” said Dr Andreas Crusis, president of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Doctor's Chamber.

    Germany alone is estimated to need an extra 10 000 to 15 000 doctors after the implementation of the EU directive on doctors' working hours. The Polish Chamber of Physicians has warned that implementing the same directive in Poland will further exacerbate the country's shortage of doctors.

    Poland, with 40 million inhabitants, has 2.2 doctors for every 1000 people, compared with 3.6 in Germany.

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