The Algarve’s chronically “understaffed” casualty departments are reaching breaking point, filled to the brim with an ever-increasing flow of “dehydrated” old folk.
Hospital boss Pedro Nunes warns medical staff are “exhausted”.
“Even though the Algarve’s population doubles in the summer (from 700,000 to around 1.5 million), we remain with the same number of health professionals,” the head of the Centro Hospitalar do Algarve (CHA) told Público newspaper.
Since the beginning of the summer the number of people requiring medical treatment at the Algarve’s six A&E departments (Faro, Portimão, Lagos, Albufeira, Loulé and VRSA) has increased significantly from 600 to 900.
The average number of people admitted into hospital every day has also increased by at least 10% on last year, meaning as many as 50 new patients a day are being interned.
Most are “elderly people” affected by the heat, especially at night when temperatures “regularly top 20ºC”, explained Nunes.
“The heat isn’t unbearable, but nights have been very hot especially in the Eastern Algarve,” he explained, stressing that heat often adversely affects elderly people’s ailments and illnesses.
Even though a seasonal contingency plan is already in place, Nunes warned it is no use offering more beds at the region’s hospitals and health centres without having enough doctors and nurses to keep them running.
Many doctors have been moving to “Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra or abroad,” he said, leaving the Algarve’s hospitals and health centres in an even more dire situation than they have been used to.
So far, CHA has been making ends meet by hiring ‘médicos tarefeiros’, or doctors paid by the hour.
The problem, says Nunes, is that they can only pay general practitioners and specialists €25-€30 an hour, which isn’t enough to convince doctors to relocate to the Algarve.
“The situation is becoming dramatic,” the hospital boss reiterated. “Our health professionals are growing more and more tired. We’ll have to see if we can keep going like this,” if not more doctors will have to be dispatched to the Algarve, “either through (financial) incentives or by force”.
This week, the Central Administration for the Health System (ACSS) announced it has authorised Portugal’s state hospitals to hire 205 doctors and 1,341 nurses. However, writes Público, only four doctors and 64 nurses will be making their way to the Algarve.