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News 06 Oct 11

Brain Drain of Doctors Worsens in Romania

The outflow of doctors heading abroad for more money is continuing to rise, threatening Romania's already dilapidated health system.

Marian Chiriac
Bucharest

Around 1,700 doctors left Romania to go work abroad in the first eight months of this year, a figure that is steadily increasing, the Colegiul Medicilor, a professional organisation for doctors, said yesterday.

The number, which represent 4 per cent of the total number of doctors in Romania, was established on the basis of certificates issued for good medical practice, which are required for working abroad, Vasile Astarastoae, the president of the organisation, said. 

By comparison, around 1,100 doctors sought to leave Romania over a similar period last year.

The brain drain is particularly acute in the highest ranks of the profession. Most of those leaving were anesthesiologists and surgeons followed by urologists, orthopedists and pediatricians. The favourite destination was Western Europe, mainly France, Germany and the UK.

Romania already has a shortage of doctors. There are around 1.95 per 1,000 people in Romania, compared to an EU average of 3.18.

The chronic lack of specialists hampers medical activities and jeopardizes the safety of patients and doctors alike. Too many doctors say they work to the point of exhaustion.

"The small salaries and the extremely difficult conditions in which doctors work have prompted a considerable number to leave the country,” Vasile Astarastoae added.

Romania has been struggling to reform its public health sector, which has fallen into growing chaos as a result of chronic underinvestment. Hospitals around the country are understaffed and are short of specialists and modern medical equipment. Low pay in the health sector and the government’s unwillingness to carry out changes have encouraged the exodus of doctors and nurses.

The average salary of a junior doctor is around €300 a month and under government austerity plans wages are being cut by a quarter. A doctor who gets work in Britain, for example, may expect to earn many times that figure.

Romania spends less on healthcare as a percentage of the budget than any other country in the European Union. Last year, Bucharest spent only around 4.5 per cent of its GDP on healthcare, almost half the EU average.

By contrast, Britain spent only 6.9 per cent, and  France spent 9.4 per cent of its GDP on health, followed closely by Norway and Canada, according to a recent OECD report.

Unsurprisingly, Romania's healthcare system is considered one of the worst in Europe. Last year it ranked last among 33 countries, according to the European Healthcare Consumer Index.

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