THE Spanish no longer visit the doctor more often than other EU members.
The average number of annual visits in Spain dropped to 7.5 in 2009, according to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey of 34 member states.
This image was reinforced by comparing Spain with Britain or Denmark whose citizens saw a doctor five times a year. The report also situates the Spanish well below the Czechs, who saw a doctor 11.2 times a year, or the Germans with 8.2 visits.
This was partly due to willingness to cut down on unnecessary visits but computerised prescriptions played an important part, said Health sources.
These enabled chronically-ill patients to renew prescriptions without a doctor’s appointment. The system already functions in Andalucia, the Valencia Region and Balearics but has yet to reach Madrid or Castilla-La Mancha.
Government spending cuts were creating longer waiting lists and fewer medical staff but reducing the number of visits was the best solution, according to Jose Martinez Olmos, former junior Health minister.
Charging patients for medical attention already paid for though taxation was increasingly suggested to rescue the saturated Health system, he said.
“Perhaps there is abuse but basically this is an organisational problem,” maintained Dr Albert Jovell, president of the Spanish Patients’ Forum. Needless appointments were often made for prescriptions while someone with a broken leg was obliged to renew their sick leave each week even though they had been signed off for a month, he said.
Some doctors were so overworked that they spent less than five minutes with each patient, according to Andalucia souces, a claim substantiated by Juan Jose Rodriguez Sendin, president of the Professional Medical Association.
Doctors already dedicated 40 per cent of the working day to paperwork, and this left them with less time for patients, he said.
By Annie Maples