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The Number of Doctors Practicing in Hungary is at a High – but Where Are They?

2018.09.05.

The number of doctors working in Hungary hasn’t been this high since the 1960s, according to information released by the daily Magyar Hirlap on Tuesday.

The newspaper quoted data from the Central Statistical Office (KSH) showing that 39,132 doctors practiced last year. These results are surprising considering the media is always flooded with news about the alleged shortage of practitioners and the high turnover rate of nurses and doctors.

The Magyar Hirlap also quoted a Magyar Nemzet article that claims the number of practitioners increased by 22 percent in the previous decade; however, despite government programs, the number of general practitioners has remained stagnant. Information gathered from the newspaper revealed there were 65,320 doctors registered in Hungary in 2016, yet only 55 percent were actively working in the profession.

Fewer doctors have applied for permits to work abroad, with only 334 applications submitted in 2017. However, 1,498 doctors have applied for a permit but are working in Hungary today. Either the applicants chose not to move abroad, or did, and have since returned to the country. Others divide their time between home and abroad, the newspaper added.

Statistically, everything appears fine

But when one takes a closer look at the details a different picture emerges. In 2015, Világgazdaság released approximately the same results and argued that the number of doctors had never been so high. After the article, many newspapers and experts accused Világgazdaság, along with KSH (The Statistical Bureau of Hungary), of using the wrong methodology when conducting the study. The experts interviewed by Népszabadság argued that if these numbers were accurate, Hungary would have the highest number of practitioners among OECD countries, coming out to approximately 3.9 doctors per 1000 people.

However, according to the OECD studies, the numbers aren’t necessarily abnormal since Hungary’s 3.2 figure is still outperforming developed countries like the United Kingdom, Finland and Japan. If the numbers show a different picture, then why might the media continually fixate on an alleged doctor shortage?

How many is enough?

We asked the President of the Hungarian Medical Association (MOK), István Éger, his thoughts on the issue. He believes that, based on these numbers, the public can’t draw conclusions about the quality of treatment or ensure the minimum criterium. Just from looking at the figure published by Magyar Hirlap, no one can be sure how many doctors are working in private practices, are pensioners, or are working part-time.

He also mentioned that confusing and conflicting statistics are common in the industry. For instance, the aforementioned Magyar Nemzet article wrote about 65 320 doctors, but, as Éger explained, they merely combined the medical-vocational allowances, but didn’t consider the fact that there are several doctors with various allowances.

President of the Hungarian Medical Association, István Éger

President of the Hungarian Medical Association, István Éger Via: Napi.hu

Therefore, because KSH’s results rely on general data about Hungary’s medical society and largely ignore specifics, they can be misleading. For a patient who pays compulsory health insurance, where the 39 thousand doctors work – whether in the private sector or state-financed institutions – is a critical detail.

When asked whether any research teams or universities have attempted to gather and analyze more accurate data, Éger replied that he hadn’t heard of any such work being done in the country.

Photo: Napi.hu