Copenhagen could be without after-hours GPs come September

Longer waiting times and reduced service at hospitals loom if doctors decide to make good on their threat to leave the health service

Greater Copenhagen's 1.7 million residents could be without after-hours emergency doctors on September 1 if general practitioners decide to follow through with their threat to leave the health service as part of the ongoing doctor conflict.

The Greater Copenhagen Regional Council, which manages the health service, will not be able to establish an alternative to the current after-hours service by then, according to Svend Hartling, who heads the region's health service.

“People need emergency assistance and if we don’t have a system to handle that then we are left with a problem,” Hartling told Politiken newspaper. “Then we need to call in the emergency response and funnel all the resources we have into solving the problem. Emergency situations will be prioritised, while others must wait.”

The capital region had already planned to take over operation of the after-hours services starting on January 1, but the system won’t be ready in time to deal with the potential three-month gap that could arise should the region's GPs leave the health service early.

GPs in the other areas of the country will continue their after-hours duties even if they opt out of the health service.

The government, health authorities and the Health Ministry have all warned doctors that they are required by law to give six months notice of their intention to leave the health service.

But the doctors’ union, PLO, disagreed.

“The regional health services have terminated the agreement themselves, so, in reality, they can’t very well expect GPs to continue with the after-hours services,” PLO head Peter Orebo Hansen told Politiken.

Health authorities accused GPs of using patients as hostages and warned that their actions could have far-reaching consequences.

“It’s a bomb. People won’t be dying in the streets but the service in the emergency wards will be compromised and that will effect waiting times and comfort,” Thor Grønlykke, a spokesperson for Socialdemokraterne, told Berlingske newspaper. “It will be indefensible if they choose to so it.”

PLO, on the other hand, argues the health authorities missed their opportunity to settle the issue properly. A majority in parliament voted on March 5 to take give responsibility for the emergency after-hours services to the regional governments starting in 2014, but PLO did not find out until a journalist called for a comment.

“We could have had a reasonable and professional discussion about what the best solution would be for people if they had told us about their plans to take over the after-hours services beforehand,” Birgitte Alling Møller, head of the PLO's Copenhagen chapter, told Politiken.

PLO will meet this weekend to decide whether to quit the health service.

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