France: €5 fine for patients missing GP appointments

In France, individuals who fail to attend scheduled medical appointments without a valid excuse may soon face a €5 fine, as proposed by the government. Gabriel Attal, speaking on behalf of the government, highlighted that medical professionals report approximately 27 million missed appointments annually, emphasizing the need to address this issue. The prime minister announced the proposed penalty as part of a broader effort to strengthen the healthcare system, which is grappling with challenges such as staff shortages, rising costs, and increased demand.

However, the suggestion of imposing fines was met with criticism from doctors’ unions and patient advocacy groups. Patrick Pelloux, president of the emergency doctors’ association, expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the fine, likening it to a tax that would ultimately burden the healthcare system. Luc Duquesnel, a general practitioner, suggested that educating patients would be more beneficial than imposing financial penalties, which could strain doctor-patient relationships.

Under the proposed law, individuals scheduling medical appointments would be required to provide credit card details. If a patient fails to attend an appointment without giving at least 24 hours’ notice of cancellation, the doctor would have the option to charge a €5 fee. However, doctors would have discretion to waive the fine in cases where the absence was deemed justified. Attal estimated that implementing this fine could potentially free up 20 million appointments annually.

Despite the government’s intentions to address healthcare accessibility issues, Gérard Raymond, president of the French patients’ association, criticized the proposed fine, arguing that it aimed to induce guilt rather than foster a sense of responsibility among patients.

In response to concerns about healthcare gaps in rural areas and small towns, Attal outlined plans to increase the number of places in medical schools from 8,000 in 2017 to 16,000 by 2027. The objective is to ensure that everyone has access to a general practitioner within a 30-minute radius of their home. Additionally, a pilot program will be introduced to grant patients direct access to certain specialists without requiring a referral from their GP, and pharmacists will be authorized to prescribe specific medications, including antibiotics.

However, the financial strain on the French social security budget, which covers healthcare expenses, remains a significant concern, with the deficit projected to increase to €11.2 billion this year, up from €8.8 billion last year.

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