Health Minister looks to revamp primary medical care

Health Minister looks to revamp primary medical care
A doctor at her desk in a group medical practice of general practitioners in Ronse. Credit: Belga/ Dirk Waem

From a shortage of doctors to barriers for patients, the healthcare system in Belgium is facing a crisis of sorts, further worsened by the pandemic. Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke wants to fix this by reorganising the sector.

In a proposal drawn up by Vandenbroucke and published on Saturday, he states that, in recent months, he has received "many signals of concern" from general practitioners, frontline areas, local authorities and patients, specifically about the shortage of GPs.

"The common thread is invariably that primary care is overwhelmed, especially after the intense pandemic period, but also that there are too few GPs to take on too many tasks," he wrote.

While recognising that some changes made to ensure the primary health care system is less focused on "curing" diseases and is now much more successful in providing care that is tailored to the needs of patients to ensure the "best possible quality of life for patients," more needs to be done, especially with the increasing ageing population.

Many hands make light work

He stated that the solutions suggested by the different actors in the field are very similar, and include increasing the number of GPs in a systematic way and dividing them across the country more efficiently.

The report also included points to support and delegate certain tasks, to reduce unnecessary administrative formalities or hand these over to nurses, pharmacists and, possibly, psychologists.

Finally, the minister also stressed the importance of improving the well-being of health professionals, with particular attention to work-life balance, training and retention policy and integration into the health care system.

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"We need a New Deal for GPs that is not just about how we can better support GPs, including working with other providers or with other care providers or care support functions, but also looks at how their funding model can better take into account availability, collaboration, continuity of collaboration and care, prevention and empowerment," Vandenbroucke said.

Focus on patients

Aside from improving the lives and careers of healthcare personnel, Vandenbroucke is also looking to improve things from a patient aspect, especially by improving the accessibility for patients to receive the care they need.

"Patients should face as few barriers as possible to visit a general practitioner, with a view to preventative care and to avoid aggravating health problems," he said.

The minister also hopes to offer free access to general primary health care for children and young adults up to the age of 25 years, as long as they each have a Global Medical File (DMG) with their GP. A €5.5 million budget has already been earmarked for this purpose.

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