Doctor under fire for note freeing woman from gym membership
Belgian fitness centres are in an uproar as the medic is cleared over the incident
A Belgian doctor wrote a medical note to free a woman from her expensive gym membership. File photograph: Getty Images
Owners of fitness centres in Belgium are in uproar after a doctor who wrote a medical note to free a woman from her expensive gym membership was cleared of malpractice on the grounds that he acted in a “social role”.
The country’s Order of Physicians found that the doctor had acted appropriately when helping a woman who was trapped in a contract she was unlikely to use and could not afford.
The high cost and inflexible nature of many fitness centres has long been a contentious issue in Belgium.
Last year the government sought to liberalise gym contracts with a new code of conduct: minimum one-year contracts were ditched and customers were given the power to cancel a contract without penalty on the advice of a doctor.
In the latest development, the Order of Physicians has backed the doctor who admitted to writing a medical note for the woman because he did not believe she had the funds to see out a €70-a-month contract that had a further 18 months to run.
The doctor told the watchdog that he had a responsibility to help his patient and had “acted out of social concern”.
“At these fitness clubs there are often really tight contracts that you almost can’t get rid of,” he said.
Lieven Wostyn, regional chairman of the watchdog, said it had to deal with an increasing number of such cases.
He told the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad: “The social also plays a role in a doctor. And there was also a medical problem: the woman suffered from pain in the neck and a trailing middle ear infection.
“We get complaints about this more often than before. We look very closely at each complaint. There have also been cases where the fitness centre has been right.”
Eric Vandenabeele, the director of the professional association of gyms in Belgium, Fitness.be, described the watchdog’s ruling as “unacceptable”.
He said: “A doctor has to judge your health, not whether it was a good idea to conclude such a contract. Will a doctor now judge your contract with your energy supplier, or with your internet provider?”
Simon November, of the Belgian consumers’ organisation Test-Aankoop, said: “It shows how these strangling contracts remain a problem and how few flexible fitness centres exist. We have been complaining for years.” – Guardian service