Doctors and nurses wanted: experts warn of medical staff shortage

1 in 4 medics consider quitting due to impact of pandemic on physical and mental health

A doctor checking a patient at a medical center in Salt
A doctor checking a patient at a medical center in Salt / Lorcan Doherty

Lorcan Doherty | Barcelona

October 12, 2020 10:36 AM

The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on medical professionals. A recent study showed that nearly one in four have considered quitting over the impact that the Covid-19 crisis has had on their emotional and physical wellbeing.

But, as some experts are warning, Catalonia can't afford to lose any more doctors or nurses because there is already a shortage in certain areas. And recruiting them is no easy task.

The Catalan News Agency (ACN) spoke to the health department, the Barcelona College of Physicians, scientific societies and unions and discovered there was widespread agreement that there was a general lack of nurses, and that more doctors are needed with specific specialties and in certain parts of Catalonia.

Groups representing professionals attribute these shortages to "precarious" contracts, while the health department admits that employment terms and conditions need to be made "more attractive."

Lack of specialist doctors and uneven distribution

On the face of it, things mightn't look so bad. Catalonia has 4.83 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, more than Spain (3.8), or indeed the OECD average (3.4), according to data from 2017.

But look closer, and as the Director General of the Health Professionals group Montserrat Gea points out, Catalonia has "a sufficient number of doctors" but they lack "good distribution by territory or by specialty."

The corporate general director of the Barcelona College of Physicians, Dr. Marc Soler, agrees: "There is a lack of doctors in some specialties, such as Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Anesthesia and Psychiatry, and in some territories, where posts are harder to fill." Soler acknowledges that in recent years the administration has made an effort to increase the numbers, but it has not been enough, he says.

The distribution of health professionals - doctors, nurses and other care workers - is uneven across Catalonia. While Barcelona has 14.55 professionals per 1,000 inhabitants, Central Catalonia has just 6.26 and the Western Catalan Pyrenees region has 5.53.

Primary care gaps

For Dr. Antoni Sisó, president of the Catalan Society of Family and Community Medicine (CAMFiC), the question is not whether doctors are lacking, but "which doctors are lacking".

According to CAMFiC, in Catalonia, the average number of GPs per 10,000 inhabitants is 7.2, while the European Union average is above 9.5. In other words, about 1,000 more family doctors are needed in Catalonia, says Dr. Sisó.

Recruitment issues

About 50% of doctors under the age of 45 do not have any job security, according to a 2016 study from the Barcelona College of Physicians.

"They have precarious contracts, mainly temporary ones, some for just weeks or days at a time, with low prospects, with no time for further training or development, and a low salary," says Dr. Marc Soler.