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Germany

Doctors Shut Practices to Protest German Government Policies

Beginning Tuesday, March 25, up to 30 percent of doctors' offices will be closed across the country. Physicians say the government should be spending more to close personnel gaps in the medical field.

Doctors operating on a patient

More and more German physicians are moving to other countries

Up to 30 percent of the roughly 100,000 doctors' offices in Germany are expected to take part in the protests against the German government's healthcare policies. Other physicians, however, are filling in to ensure that the public receives medical care despite many offices remaining closed through Friday.

The doctors are criticizing the shortage of younger medical professionals, with the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV) warning that nearly one in five physicians with their own practices is due to retire soon. Doctors are calling on the government to develop policies to help fill the gap.

"After all, the growing threat of a doctor shortage is a challenge facing everyone in society," KBV director Andreas Koehler told DPA news agency.

Many doctors in Germany near retirement

Doctors on strike

Doctors have beens striking for the past few years and demanding better pay in hospitals

The KBV said that around 17 percent of doctors with their own practices are over 60. "We estimate that by 2012, up to 34,000 doctors will retire from practice," Koehler said.

Protesting physicians have said that the German government's belt-tightening measures are also forcing a shift from patients getting medical care in doctors' offices to them having to seek it out in hospitals and clinics.

"Young physicians are in great demand both in practices and in hospitals," Koehler said, adding that they should be given financial security.

Koehler also said that proposed reforms to policies concerning doctors' fees should be put into practice as early as next year, since they "offer doctors with their own practices the opportunity to earn more." Physicians should receive more money for patients who are more ill, the KBV director said.

The head of the German medical association, Joerg-Dietrich Hoppe, said in an interview in the newsmagazine Focus last fall that young doctors are increasingly moving away from Germany because they earn more and enjoy better working conditions in other countries.

Last May, the government proposed legislation aiming to fix the problem. Among other changes, it would relax practitioner law to allow doctors to operate more than one practice, including outside the region where their license was acquired. It would also raise the retirement age, and allow physicians to hire colleagues to work for them.

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