Tiago Villanueva: The European union of general practitioners

Tiago_VillanuevaWhilst Italy’s government was falling, general practitioners from 21 countries convened in Turin on 11 and 12 November for the autumn meeting of the European Union of General Practitioners (UEMO), which is a leading European medical organisation based in Brussels.

As well as providing clinical care to their patients, there are a number of reasons why general practice needs a strong voice at a European level and to be increasingly respected by politicians and society.

The European directive for the recognition of professional qualifications across European countries is currently being revised, following a period of public consultation. UEMO argued in its consultation that general practice should be recognised as a specialty throughout Europe in order to improve professional mobility throughout the continent, in order for minimum standards of postgraduate training to be created, and to increase the cost-effectiveness of healthcare provision in times of austerity, as there’s evidence that primary care brings health gains to the population.

Some interesting projects where UEMO is looking to get involved were presented, for example the European Union funded “Tell Me” project, which will kick off in 2012 and run for three years. It will look into creating risk assessment models of infectious diseases. This project came about in the aftermath of the H1N1 pandemic, where poor risk communication practices between official authorities and the general public were pointed out. This will require the involvement of many GP’s across six countries, who will have to test a specific simulation software. 

A number of representatives from other European Medical Organisations (EMO’s) were also present and reported the latest development in their organisations.

Anna Stavdal, WONCA Europe’s liaison officer for UEMO (WONCA Europe is the European branch of the World Organisation of Family Doctors) stressed the importance for European medical organisations like WONCA Europe and UEMO to collaborate with each other, not only to avoid carrying out redundant work, but also for lobbying purposes, particularly at the European Union level.

A representative from the European union of medical specialties (UEMS) announced that a new section for emergency medicine had been created, which, like general practice, is struggling to be recognised as a specialty in Europe. This may be of importance to GP’s, as many work part-time in hospital emergency departments or even end up developing a full time career in emergency medicine.

Diederik Aarendok, the coordinator of the European forum for primary care, a platform for discussion of organisational issues about primary care among the different types of healthcare professionals, highlighted the ongoing work of the French primary care professor Marianne Samuelson on inter-professional education, which could be important to fuel further debate within UEMO, at a time when the “skills mix” and the roles of healthcare professionals are being reconsidered. In fact, Daniel Widmer, from the Swiss delegation, gave a presentation where he mentioned that GP’s must increasingly take on leadership roles, in a time when both health systems, patients, and the interventions that patients are subject to are becoming increasingly complex. And by leadership, he meant striving to protect patients and avoiding fragmentation in the provision of healthcare.

And while the European Union still hesitates to admit Turkey as a member, UEMO admitted Turkeyas a new member at the Turin meeting. Turkey was represented there by one of its main general practice associations, AHEF, which represents about 10,000 of the 23,000 Turkish GPs.

One of the million dollar questions is definitely whether general practice will be recognised at some point as a specialty throughout Europe (it is not currently recognised as a specialty in Austria, Italy, and the United Kingdom). Nevertheless, there’s hope, and a joint statement from the European medical profession on family medicine, backed up by several key European Medical Organisations and calling for the introduction of general practice as a specialty like any other, was approved at the meeting. European general practice has tremendous potential, but there’s still a long way to go.

Tiago Villanueva is a GP based in Portugal, and a former BMJ Clegg Scholar and editor, StudentBMJ. He was a member of the Portuguese delegation in the UEMO meeting, and his travel expenses were covered by the Portuguese Medical Association.