An ambitious plan by China to increase its doctor numbers by nearly 40 per cent over the next five years faces a severe test as medical graduates choose other professions because of low pay and overwork.
China's ageing population and growing burden from conditions such as cancer and diabetes is leaving its underfunded public hospitals, the first port of call for most patients, increasingly strained.
In response, China is hoping to rely more on general practitioners, known as family doctors. The State Council announced a five-year health plan last week that aims to increase average life expectancy by one year to 77.3 years by the end of 2020.
It called for an increase in the number of doctors from the current level of 1.5 per 1,000 citizens to more than two by 2020. That compares with figures of 1.9 in Brazil and 2.8 in Britain. The plan said China would need to employ an extra 140,000 obstetricians and midwives to cope with rising demand after the country scrapped its one-child policy in favour of allowing couples to have two children.
But a recent survey suggested it would be difficult to recruit the number of doctors required. In the 10 years to 2015, Chinese universities produced 4.7m medical graduates, while the total number of doctors rose by just 750,000, representing a 16 per cent increase, according to data compiled by Angela Fan of Taiwan's National Yang-Ming University.