Italian doctors have to wait an average of ten years before they find stable employment in the public or private health services because there is a massive surplus of medical school graduates, according to Aldo Pagni, president of the Italian federation of medical registers.
Professor Pagni has called for the quota of 8,000 new students in medical schools to be reduced to 4,200 to reach a balance between supply and demand by 2002.
Until a few years ago access to medical schools was completely open to any school-leaver, independently of their field of study in secondary school.
Only recently have attempts been made, not always successfully, to limit access to medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and architecture.
Italy now has about twice as many doctors as most other European countries and a public health system that is certainly no better than those in France, Germany or the United Kingdom.
According to Professor Pagni, the glut of doctors means that on average they only find stable employment at the age of 39 and are thus unable to accumulate the payments necessary to have a pension. He pointed out that the training of each doctor costs the state the equivalent of Pounds 12,000 a year, plus the cost to the families that have to support them.
"Halving the number of medical students appears to be the only solution," he said.
This is not the first call for fewer medical students. Recently many students excluded from limited-access degree courses have successfully appealed the decision in court on the basis of a 1969 law that guarantees all school-leavers the choice of any university education.