An old image of an A&E department waiting room, but very typical of the majority of Portuguese A&E waiting areas

A&Es ‘stuffed’ with people with respiratory infections

… but DGS says nothing because it isn’t covid-19

This is the gist of one of the latest stories by PáginaUm, an online that emerged during the pandemic principally because of the inability of the nation’s mainstream to question data or decisions that at the time were bombarding the headlines.

Investigative journalist Pedro Almeida Vieira hung on to the meaning of his profession and has done a remarkable job in forcing ‘revelations’ of inconvenient facts…

This week he reports on how “sanitary normality almost reappeared with the War of Ukraine, and a minimalist weekly bulletin on covid-19.

But this ‘normality’ essentially means a return to A&E departments stuffed with people, and “with the government and authorities whistling in the other direction”.

Total numbers of people seeking medical care in hospitals have reached six-year maximums – and these are not ‘false’ A&E entries, he says.

General health of Portuguese ‘hanging by a thread’

“Serious cases are running high. Everything points to the general health of the Portuguese hanging by a thread…”

The text refers to waiting times for least urgent patients “of more than six hours” in busy Lisbon suburbs, like Almada and Vila Franca da Xira.

This is what “a return to normality” means.

As Pedro Almeida Vieira admits, it is “paradoxically more chaotic now (in hospitals) than it was during the pandemic”.

Doctors and Nurses “disappointed” by decision to retain Minister of Health

All of this explains completely why the medical profession hasn’t reacted with delight at  news that health minister Marta Temido will be continuing in her role

Noel Carrilho, president of FNAM, the national federation of doctors, has been one of a number of critics since the news of the new government emerged, saying Ms Temido has been a minister “who never took the necessary action to modify working conditions for doctors in the SNS health service in order to attract them; in order to encourage more family doctors to the service”. This is the minister who “let hundreds of doctors who could have strengthened the SNS slip through her fingers, when these doctors were needed and continue to be needed to combat waiting lists” and provide the people of this country the medical assistance they deserve, he said.

Carrilho, like nurses, told Lusa his federation could be nothing but “disappointed”.

And, if PáginaUm’s research is anything to go by, doctors will be massively challenged as well.

An “avalanche” of new infections

Last week, says the online, saw “an avalanche of people arriving at A&E departments” with non-Covid related infections, including cases of flu.

The week March 15-21 saw an average number of trips by people to A&E departments of 19,000 per day.

On March 21, the number “for the first time since the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 on Portuguese territory” hit 20,000.

Much as this may not be politic to admit, PáginaUm explains that the “pandemic period ended up relieving pressure on hospitals, particularly when it came to A&E departments” (basically because people were confined to their homes and so terrified of potentially contracting the virus that they tried to avoid going to hospitals at all…)

In 2020, for example – right at the start of the pandemic – and in 2021, the same week (March 15-21) saw 10,802 and 7,052 people respectively in the nation’s A&E departments.

Yet the previous three years (when SARS-CoV-2 was the stuff of apocalyptic nightmares), the number of people visiting A&E departments was “very much higher than in 2020 and 2021, but a great deal lower than this current year”.

What has changed? What has caused this sudden rush on A&E departments, particularly as we are entering Spring? (Temperatures are nothing like those of mid-winter, so it can’t be blamed on those…)

PáginaUm calls it “another factor of concern” – admitting that if one observes the habitual reduction in pressure on hospitals at the start of spring “this year we are seeing the opposite tendency”.

What are the problems causing this flood? PáginaUm’s research points to “other respiratory infections, including the flu”.

Flu, it recalls, had become a “rare disease” for more than a year.

But flu has been only part of the reason for the influx.

“According to SNS monitoring data since 2017, this latest week March 15-21 has been the one with the highest number of non-flu and non-covid respiratory infections”. A total of 7.613.

“These are numbers above any found pre-pandemic, and hugely exceed cases recorded in the same week of 2020 and 2021. Last year there were only 1,135 cases; in 2020 only 3,788”, says the online.

And ‘flu’ was identified in only 602 cases that reached the SNS; last year it was only responsible for one visit to A&E.

“In short, SARS-CoV-2 has apparently disappeared but all other viruses and bacteria that previously afflicted humans have reappeared. Where have they all been? Science will try to answer this question”, says PáginaUm. But one thing is clear: “the DGS remains silent and there is no order or relevant information on its website about which infectious agents are responsible”.

The SNS has simply “revealed” that flu has reappeared (after two years in which it “remained hidden”) and in this case, 602 cases were recorded between March 15-21, “in line with what was expected in years prior to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2”.

Another point made by PáginaUm’s text is that the number of hospitalisations resulting from people’s trips to A&E have been ‘quite high’: 2.5% for example of the people who sought out emergency medical assistance in the week March 15-21 ended up being interned in hospital.

In absolute terms, these are the highest numbers in the same period since 2017-2021”.

What this shows, the online believes, “is that the general state of health of the Portuguese people is deplorable in the aftermath of the pandemic”.

The 27,000 excess deaths of the last two years don’t appear to have made any difference.

What PáginaUm calls the “populational bloodletting” has not brought any general “robustness” to people’s health.

“On the contrary, with more people now in need of urgent medical care – and with a reduced elderly population – a sad conclusion must be drawn: the management of the pandemic and the government’s strategy of suspending many medical services in the last two years left many injuries on “survivors”.

The health of the Portuguese is ‘hanging by a thread’, PáginaUM repeats – and the country’s A&E departments “are proof of this”.

UPDATE: Since this article went online, a retired endocrine surgeon has written in drawing our attention to an article he wrote to us just over a year ago. It refers to Vitamin D and the absolute importance of taking it.

Nils-Ola Holtze made his ‘letter to the editor’ as short and simple as possible, just to get the message over. A more comprehensive explanation of the benefits of taking Vitamin D can be found within the body of his text.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com