Algarve’s paediatric A&E crisis averted … until at least mid-October

There will be no shortage of staff at the paediatric A&E departments of the Algarve’s public hospitals (Portimão and Faro) until “at least October 15”. So says the Algarve University Hospital Board (CHUA), which guarantees that the units will be “running normally day and night” for the first half of the month.

But even CHUA admits that there is a “chronic shortage” of health professionals in the region and the potential for a crisis is just around the corner.

This time, the alarm was sounded by a group of doctors working at the region’s public hospitals who warned about the “alarming situation” at Faro Hospital where the paediatric A&E was near collapse.

In a letter to CHUA, the doctors warned about the hospital’s aging workforce and the shrinking number of health professionals.

As they explained, the hospital’s A&E unit would already have closed if the paediatricians who are over 55 years of age (and no longer required to work at the A&E) had decided to stop manning the department.

The A&E service is made up of 13 paediatricians, six of whom are older than 55 and no longer required to work night shifts.

“To ensure the 24-hour paediatric A&E, we are left with six paediatricians, who are now down to four as two of them have taken medical leave. At this rate, it is likely that others will also be unavailable soon,” the doctors warned.

Making matters worse is Covid-19, which led hospital authorities to request that doctors across the country delay their holidays in order to ease the pressure being felt on the State’s already fragile health service.

“The region has a chronic shortage of specialists such as paediatricians, but also surgeons and anesthesiologists, the most serious of all,” CHUA board member Paulo Neves told Público newspaper.

While CHUA guarantees that the paediatric A&E crisis has been averted for now, “the fight is not over”.

“We still have the second half (of October) and other medical specialties to worry about,” he said.

One possible solution would be to request help from other hospitals, although CHUA is keeping that idea off the table for now.

But why does the Algarve continue to struggle to attract and maintain its health professionals?

João Rosa, head of CHUA’s neonatal and paediatric intensive care unit, told Público that the region’s public hospitals have trained 50 paediatricians in the last 30 years. However, only 19 of them continue to work in the Algarve.

“More and more health professionals are leaving the national health service (SNS) and the Ministry of Health needs to take deep measure in order to encourage them to stay,” he said.

Paulo Neves says the Ministry of Health has been “following” the situation and has been in contact with hospital authorities to find solutions.

However, these solutions are not easy to find: “The ministry cannot find doctors just like that. Doctors are people, nurses are people, and they all have their lives and commitments.”

michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com