The Bloem doc­tor who doesn’t ask for pay­ment

Meet the doc­tor who asks his pa­tients to give him only what they can af­ford for his ser­vices and their med­i­ca­tion


IT’S a bit­terly cold Fri­day morn­ing in Bloem­fontein and the wait­ing room is packed with cough­ing, snif­fling peo­ple wait­ing to see the doc­tor. Noth­ing un­usual about that, you might think – doc­tors’ wait­ing rooms are usu­ally busy at this time of year with colds and flu do­ing the rounds. But Dr Paulo de Val­doleiros’ surgery in West­dene, Bloem­fontein, is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. Here it doesn’t mat­ter if your med­i­cal aid has run out or your bank bal­ance is se­verely in the red – no one is turned away. And no one is asked to pay a cent more than they can af­ford.

Walk-in Doc­tor, Paulo’s small prac­tice in an old house on Kell­ner Street, is ex­actly what the name says: a prac­tice where any­one can walk in and be treated. And the doc­tor and his rooms have be­come quite a sen­sa­tion in the com­mu­nity.

“We read about Dr Paulo and his prac­tice on Face­book,” says one mom, who’s brought her son to be treated for an ear in­fec­tion. “Ev­ery­one’s talk­ing about him.

“If you show up at an or­di­nary GP you spend five min­utes in his con­sult­ing rooms, he gives you med­i­ca­tion and charges you an arm and a leg.

“Here the doc­tor makes time for you. He wants to get to know his pa­tients. And af­ter­wards you pay what you can af­ford and he gives you the nec­es­sary med­i­ca­tion.”

Paulo works on a first-come, first-serve ba­sis and doesn’t be­lieve in drain­ing your bank ac­count. Pa­tients pay what they can af­ford – whether it be R50 or R350.

Pa­tients might have to wait a while but it’s par for the course. This doc­tor be­lieves in pay­ing it for­ward and it’s made him quite the go-to guy in the area.

AMAN and a woman are just leav­ing the prac­tice. The woman fas­tens her coat but­tons to ward off the icy wind. “It’s snow­ing on the Le­sotho moun­tains,” she says, blow­ing on her hands to warm them. She used to be a re­cep­tion­ist but she’s been strug­gling to find work for the past year.

“Get­ting de­cent health­care if you don’t have an in­come is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble. At state clin­ics you can end up wait­ing for eight hours be­fore see­ing a doc­tor. And they just shove a bunch of pain pills in your hand on sight.

“Here I get good-qual­ity health­care and the right med­i­ca­tion – and I pay what I can af­ford.”

She paid R50 for her con­sul­ta­tion and an­tibi­otics to fight her flu, she says. “If I find a job I’ll def­i­nitely pay more.” Nthabiseng Direko is sit­ting in the wait­ing room, wait­ing for her friend who’s in with Paulo.

“She woke up with a numb arm and one side of her face was swollen,” she tells us.

“We found out about Dr Paulo on Face­book and since we live here in West­dene we de­cided to come see him.

“He’s a blessing in our com­mu­nity,” she says. “As the Bi­ble says, ‘Give, and it shall be given unto you’ – and Dr Paulo will be re­warded for his char­ity. He’s a gift to Bloem­fontein.”

Nthabiseng’s friend emerges from the con­sult­ing room, smil­ing brightly.

“It’s high blood pres­sure,” she de­clares.

She and Nthabiseng walk over to re­cep­tion to pay her fee.

That’s how it works here. Paulo ex­am­ines his pa­tients first and af­ter­wards the patient de­cides how much his con­sul­ta­tion is worth. Then they’re also given the med­i­ca­tion.

Paulo (58), who’s of Por­tuguese de­scent, ap­pears in the wait­ing room, wear­ing a neat but­ton-down shirt and car­ry­ing a clip­board un­der his arm.

He shows us to his con­sult­ing room. There are paint­ings on the wall and ev­ery­thing is neatly in its place. We take a seat in the leather chair op­po­site his desk and he leans for­ward, rest­ing his el­bows on the glass top of his desk.

He and his par­ents ar­rived in Jo­han­nes­burg from Mozam­bique in 1974 and set about build­ing a new life for them­selves. Af­ter school Paulo worked in bot­tle stores and bars and later en­tered the bank­ing sec­tor – but he’d al­ways dreamt of be­com­ing a doc­tor and help­ing peo­ple.

In 2005 he de­cided to ful­fil his dream and started study­ing for a med­i­cal de­gree at the Univer­sity of the Free State (UFS) in Bloem­fontein. “I was 44 years old,” he says. “As far as I know I’m the old­est per­son to study medicine at UFS.”

Af­ter com­plet­ing his manda­tory year of com­mu­nity ser­vice, he started prac­tis­ing in Bryanston, Jo­han­nes­burg, in 2014. He re­turned to Bloem­fontein last year where he worked in the UFS’ chem­i­cal pathol­ogy depart­ment.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to help peo­ple from all walks of life,” he says.

“The sys­tem of peo­ple pay­ing what­ever they can af­ford was an idea I’d been toy­ing with for a while. I then de­cided to use my sav­ings to open the prac­tice.”

Walk-in Doc­tor opened its doors in the first week of June this year.

He says it’s not only the cash-strapped who use his ser­vices. “Some peo­ple have only a hospi­tal plan and oth­ers have a med­i­cal fund that’s de­pleted. I ac­cept ev­ery­one at my prac­tice.”

But isn’t he afraid of peo­ple abus­ing his sys­tem?

“There’s no sys­tem to abuse,” he de­clares. “There’s no min­i­mum amount. And if peo­ple can pay R350 but they pay only R50, it’s on their con­science and is be­tween them and God.

“We’ve been put on this planet to look af­ter one an­other and not just our­selves.”

PAULO, who’s di­vorced and has three adult chil­dren, buys the an­tibi­otics and ba­sic med­i­ca­tion he pre­scribes his pa­tients in bulk, which makes it more af­ford­able. “We don’t work with med­i­cal aids – this is a cash-only prac­tice.”

He has one iron­clad rule: he doesn’t treat chil­dren younger than seven. “Chil­dren need to go to a pae­di­a­tri­cian who spe­cialises in early child­hood devel­op­ment,” he says.

Paulo of­ten ap­pears as an ex­pert guest on the talk show Real Health broad­cast on The Home Chan­nel (DStv chan­nel 176). “It’s not only im­por­tant to be able to di­ag­nose and treat ill­nesses but also to ed­u­cate peo­ple,” he says.

“There’s no wis­dom if you’re over­weight and you sit at a fast food restau­rant and pol­ish off three burg­ers and four glasses of cola.

“Peo­ple need to be taught to live healthily and that’s part of our job de­scrip­tion as doc­tors.”

Though he finds the sud­den pop­u­lar­ity of his hum­ble prac­tice a lit­tle over­whelm­ing, he doesn’t ex­clude the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­pan­sion.

“We’ll have to see what the fu­ture holds. Maybe I’ll open sim­i­lar prac­tices across the coun­try. Time will tell.”

Dur­ing our in­ter­view in his con­sult­ing room the front door­bell rings sev­eral times. One thing’s for sure: this good Samar­i­tan isn’t eas­ing into the week­end qui­etly.

‘We’ve been put on this planet to look af­ter one an­other’

The new prac­tice in West­dene, Bloem­fontein, re­ceived more than 50 pa­tients in its first two weeks. It’s not only the poor who use Dr Paulo de Val­doleiros’ ser­vices, but also those whose med­i­cal aid funds are de­pleted.

The doc­tor ex­am­ines a patient at his surgery where you can show up with­out an appointmen­t.

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