Concern over law allowing doctors to make unemployed wait

Unions and elderly advocates are worried about the potential affects of a new law allowing doctors to prioritise the employed when scheduling treatment

November 26th, 2012 2:58 pm| by admin
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A new law permitting doctors to consider non-medical criteria such as employment status when scheduling people for treatment is coming under fire from advocacy groups out of concerns it could result in discrimination.

"It seems very odd and we’re worried that our unemployed members will bear the burden of the change,” Johnny Skovengaard, the deputy chairman of 3F, a trade union, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “Such decisions should be based on a medical decision alone.”

Currently, doctors consider the severity of an illness and the amount of pain that the patient is suffering when planning treatment. Those two criteria will still take precedence when the new law takes effect on January 1, but in instances where people are equally ill, doctors will also be allowed to give treatment to an employed person first.

The law change will also relax a requirement that all illnesses must be treated within a month of being identified. Ældre Sagen, an advocacy group for the elderly, said it opposed the stipulation, which could see some wait up to two months for treatment.

“The way the law is worded makes it possible to give people different coverage, and even if this is not the intention, it should be removed,” deputy manager of Ældre Sagen, Jens Højgaard, told Jyllands-Posten.

But the health minister, Astrid Krag (Socialistisk Folkeparti), maintained that the differentiated waiting times weren’t the same as giving better coverage to the employed, and pointed out that unemployed patients with minor illnesses that forced them to be shut-ins would receive treatment before others, who had jobs yet remained mobile.

“I have faith that the doctors are able to consider several aspects in their evaluation. They’re not only looking at a patient’s employment status,” Krag told Jyllands-Posten. “The emphasis will still be on whether the patient will suffer by waiting longer before being treated and whether the patient is in considerable pain, hindering their everyday life.”

Danske Patienter, a patient rights group, said the measure supported its position that a patient’s overall situation should be considered when making decisions about medical treatment.

While doctors underscored that the sickest should always be treated first, they pointed out that such considerations already enter into their decisions.

“In some cases, it would make sense to prioritise the single mother rather than a married mother who had someone she could share responsibility with,” Mads Koch Hansen, the head of medical association Lægeforeningen. 

The new health law comes after PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s pledge during her opening address to parliament to improve healthcare and implement a new guarantee that she said will result in maximum treatment waiting times of two months and a diagnosis within 30 days.

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