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.