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HEALTH

Can British nationals be blood donors in France?

France is changing its rule on blood donors, lifting a decades old and 'absurd' ban on gay men donating, but one group remains barred - Brits.

Can British nationals be blood donors in France?
The French blood service always needs donors. Photo: AFP

The French blood donation service Établissement français du sang (EFS) is always on the lookout for donors and issues regular appeals for people to give blood.

But if you are British, your blood might not be welcome.

In general, the service is looking for donors in good health, aged between 18 and 70 and weighing at least 50kg.

But there are also a number of things that disqualify you from giving blood – and spending time in Britain is one of them.

On the list of exclusions, the French service includes anyone who has “stays in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996 of a cumulative duration of more than one year”.

Which would obviously discount a lot of Brits, as well as anyone non-British who lived, studied or worked there during that period.

The reason for the exclusion is the BSE crisis, or la maladie de la vache folle (mad cow disease) as the French site refers to it.

The neurological condition BSE was reported in cattle in the UK in the 1980s and 90s, which resulted in a 10-year EU ban on beef exports from the UK.

There was a mall cull of British cows in an attempt to contain the BSE crisis. Photo: AFP

In total 4 million cows were slaughtered in the UK in an attempt to contain the crisis, while 177 people died of  variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease after eating infected beef.

France maintained its own ban on British beef for significantly longer than the EU, and seems to be taking a similarly cautious note in its stance on blood donors.

British people who lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996 of course can and do give blood in the UK.

However from March 2022, France will lift exclusions on gay men giving blood, saying the rule was no longer necessary and was unfair.

Other exclusions include certain health conditions or regular medication, recent tattoos or acupuncture treatments or recent trips to certain tropical countries. See the full list here.

Blood donors in France are not paid but you do get a free snack after donating. Plus, obviously, the priceless knowledge that you may have just saved someone’s life.

If you want to donate and fit the criteria, you can find a map here of don de sang (blood donation) sessions in your area. If you are registering as a new donor you will need to take ID with you.

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HEALTH

How long do you have to wait to see a doctor in France?

When it comes to making an appointment to see a doctor in France - even your GP - waiting times can be frustratingly long.

How long do you have to wait to see a doctor in France?

Back in 2000 a report by the World Health Organisation found France provided the “close to best overall healthcare” in the world.

But there is no doubt that it suffers from issues that mean patients don’t always have access to the healthcare they need.

How long patients have to wait is is one of those ‘how long is a piece of string’ questions, depending on a whole host of factors, notably where you live in France. As you’d expect, large urban centres attract more medics – but even these places are not immune from some serious healthcare issues.

According to data from international market research firm Ifop, more than 67% of French people have given up trying to make an appointment with their friendly neighbourhood doctor purely because of how long it takes to get an appointment.

The waiting time to consult a general practitioner varies between six to 11 days. It was only four days 10 years ago, according to the data.

The situation is not helped by the number of missed appointments. Le Parisien reported that an average of two appointments per doctor per day are missed. That may not sound much, but it amounts to 28million missed appointments annually – a workload the equivalent of 4,000 doctors.

At the same time, visits to hospitals’ emergency rooms are rising. Last year, 22million patients were treated by A&E doctors and nurses.

And, as more doctors retire, replacements are proving hard to come by. So-called “medical deserts” are a regular talking point in many rural areas of France – but residents in some areas of major cities are reportedly finding it increasingly difficult to register with a new médecin traitant when their long-standing family GP retires.

READ ALSO Medical deserts: Why one in three French towns do not have enough doctors

For an appointment with a specialist, expect to wait much longer. In France, you don’t need to see your GP before you make an appointment with a specialist medical professional, but most people do because it means the costs are more likely to be covered by state and “mutuelle” health insurance.

According to the Direction de la recherche, des études, de l’évaluation et des statistiques (DREES), getting an appointment to see an ophthalmologist involves an average wait of 190 days – more than six months. 

Dermatologist appointments can involve waits of between 60 and 126 days. As with other medical specialisms regional differences can be huge. In Paris, for example, the wait for an appointment with a dermatologist is at the lower end of the scale. But in rural areas where dermatologists are few and far between, it’s much longer.

Access to gynaecological care in France can also be difficult, taking between 44 and 93 days, or more than three months, to get a consultation, potentially critical time for anyone in need of cervical cancer screening, for example.

READ ALSO How France plans to transform its struggling health system

The wait for a cardiologist appointment in France, meanwhile, is in the average range of 50 to 104 days; a paediatrician’s consultation could involve waiting between 22 and 64 days; and a radiologists’ appointment ranges between 21 to 48 days.

Again these waiting times in big big urban centres like Paris or Lyon will likely be lower given the concentration of specialist doctors.

READ ALSO Have you fallen down the self-diagnosis rabbit hole?

The good news is that the ability to make doctors’ appointments online – especially specialist appointments – is starting to cut waiting times. But it’s clear France still has a long way to go. And those tens of millions of missed appointments are a major problem.

The Union Française pour une Médecine Libre group has called on politicians to allow doctors to penalise patients who do not turn up for their consultations, while online booking service Doctolib is working on a public awareness campaign to highlight the problem. 

Recently a meeting was organised with doctors’ unions and patients’ associations to discuss possible remedies, such as sending a warning email patients. But the portal is unwilling to deny those who repeatedly miss appointments access – “That would hinder universal access to care,” it warned.

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