Algarve hospital director accused of “threats and blackmail”

Algarve hospital director resolute under fire

More than 80% of the doctors under his charge have accused him of “threats and blackmail” and of “degrading patient care in the Algarve”, but Pedro Nunes remains resolute, saying the ongoing controversy at Faro and Portimão hospitals is political and has no place in the health service.
“This is all political. It has been since I arrived,” said the 60-year-old Lisbon ophthalmologist, who used to be president of the Ordem dos Médicos (Portuguese Doctors Association). “These are hysterical reactions to administrative problems. There is no lack of medication; everything is fine; there are no problems.”
The President of the CHA (Centro Hospitalar do Algarve) administrative board spoke to the Algarve Resident on Monday after a weekend bombshell from 182 doctors on his staff which was sent to Health Minister Paulo Macedo, and simultaneously leaked to national news services.
The document denounced the degradation of health services in the Algarve, highlighting “frequent delays” in programmed surgeries due to lack of medication and equipment, and severely criticising the quality of casualty department care in Portimão, which it claimed “suffered ridiculous situations” more in keeping with countries of the Third World.
The 182 doctors, out of a combined hospital total of 220, also accused their CHA chief of a “lack of dialogue” which “very much prejudiced” the region’s patients.
As news channels buzzed and AMAL, the association of Algarve borough councils, prepared to meet and discuss the controversy, Nunes told the Algarve Resident: “I am simply doing the job I was hired to do. I am quite sure there are lots of people who would like to see me give up and go back to Lisbon, but that’s not my way. I have been stubborn from birth. I am staying put and getting on with what I have been asked to do – which is to administrate this hospital and defend the rights of the public. Healthcare should not have anything to do with politics.”
The no-nonsense doctor added: “I honestly could have retired from the health service by now, and gone into private practice. I would get three times the pay for half the workload and none of this aggravation – but, like I said, that is not my way.”
Nonetheless, if Paulo Macedo decides he wants a different man for the job, “I will pack the trunk of my car and be on my way within half-an-hour,” Nunes said.
Focusing on the content of the doctors’ document, he continued: “Of course, with all the pressures we’re under from the government and demands of the troika, there can be delays in medication getting through. But we’re only talking of a day or two. Nothing significant. There is no lack of essential treatment or lack of medication for cancer, or anything else like that – but newspapers jump on any little piece of information that they can find. It is creating a climate of insecurity which doesn’t help anyone. It will work even against tourism, and that in turn will affect the economy. This kind of publicity doesn’t do anyone any good.”
As if on cue, an incident where a doctor failed to turn up at Lagos Hospital over the weekend was flashed across news services, denounced by the PCP communist party who claimed the incident showed how much services at the hospital were deteriorating. Nunes disagreed. It was a one-off situation which “we had to deal with”, he said. “Obviously the first thing you think of when someone deliberately fails to turn up is to not use that doctor again, but then we would run out of doctors altogether.”
At the same time, the doctor maintained that reorganisation policies had seen Faro Hospital upgrade its casualty department to the extent that it is now – “one of the finest in the country”. Building works ongoing at Portimão Hospital will see similar results “within the next few months”.
“Everything takes time,” Nunes concluded. “In Faro we have done away with the problem of patients lying on stretchers in corridors. It had been a reality for 20 years, but at last it is no more. In Portimão we have already provided 18 more casualty beds with good conditions, and we’re working on the space for nine more. Improvements are underway. People simply need to have some patience.”
Even so, there are some real logistical problems. One of these is the case of up to 80 multiple sclerosis patients suddenly finding themselves without their walk-in clinic physician.
Dr. Edmeia Monteiro left her job as neurologist at Portimão Hospital at the end of last year, and now her patients have to travel to Faro if they need a consultation.
For one of our readers who lives in Lagos, this is a serious blow. “People are at risk,” she told the Algarve Resident. “The bottom line is that the system is not working properly.”
Dr Nunes conceded the issue “was a real problem”. “We did not ask the doctor to leave, but this is not the Soviet Union. We cannot force people to stay working for the health service. We have contained it as well as we can for the moment. All the patients will be attended by the neurologists from Faro. It is not ideal and we will be working as much as we can to find a better solution.”
“The situation is unacceptable and very serious,” says Portimão mayoress
Meantime, Portimão Socialist mayoress Isilda Gomes has issued a statement saying how worried she is over this latest clear sign that doctors are not behind their regional administrator. The letter to health minister Paulo Macedo has confirmed developing concerns that the restructuring at CHA is “gravely prejudicing the quality of health services within the Algarve”, she said.
“Health is a strategic area for the Algarve. The various situations outlined are very serious,” she said. “It is unacceptable that citizens should wait up to 18 hours at a casualty department and end up not being seen. It is unacceptable that in numerous situations medication is lacking. This could put the health of many patients at risk.
“It is never too late to reconsider the path being taken and recognise that the restructuring underway is not working and not bringing the desired results.”
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]
Photo: Algarve Resident

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