Image: national association of energency pre-hospital technicians
Image: national association of energency pre-hospital technicians

Countdown to World Youth Day harried by warnings of potential “catastrophe”

Health strategy “nothing but a farce”, “impossible to implement”, says union

Precious weeks away from World Youth Day in Lisbon – the largest event on the Roman Catholic calendar – and warnings of potential ‘catastrophe’ have begun.

This was always going to be a massive undertaking. Over 1.5 million pilgrims from all over the world are expected; where they are all going to stay is proving a challenge – not to mention how they are going to get to and from the event taking place in the first week of August.

But now the union of pre-hospital emergency technicians has “denounced the scarcity of resources”, saying the ministry of health’s strategy for the event is “nothing but a farce”.

As SIC Notícias heard, the strategy “provides for the installation of two field hospitals and a contingency plan activated in six hospital centres in Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra. It also has 10 advanced life support stations, in addition to basic support teams: 75 fixed and another 75 mobile”.

It sounds impressive but it is “impossible to implement”, Rui Lazaro, of the union, explains.

Not only this, he suggests the various emergency posts are “nothing more than seasonal medical emergency posts” involving “ambulances that are already normally available to citizens, 365 days a year, that are already activated by INEM but which change their names. It’s nothing but a farce. 

“Basing the system on firemen and Red Cross partners – where training given by INEM has been the same for more than 20 years – with an abysmal lack of skills, will increase the usual delay in provision of emergency medical services, and also – given the high number of expected occurrences – we may be facing a catastrophic situation”, he predicted.

SIC reports that the Ministry of Internal Administration (MAI) has said Rui Lazaro’s warnings do not, for now, merit a response.

“Addressing specific dimensions of the various plans would be inopportune, inadequate and would not contribute to what should exist, which is to have a single and secure communication about the global security plan”, minister for interior administration José Luís Carneiro enunciated today, adding that all security proposals are “already in the Internal Security System and it is up to this body to publish these plans”.

Nonetheless, the jungle drums of alarm are pounding. Less than two months before World Youth Day opens in Lisbon, the League of Portuguese Firefighters has also criticised the security plan, accusing Civil Protection of “lack of dialogue” with them in preparation of the event.

The association of Civil Protection has also warned that “diversion of resources to provide back-up for World Youth Day will cause constraints in fighting rural fires at a critical point in the firefighting calendar”.

Observador online has gone into detail about the lack of INEM personnel to respond to extra emergencies; the non-operationality of various helipads – and heard from health minister Manuel Pizarro that he feels a sense of “vigilant tranquility”. 

Tranquility is a word government officials tend to use when they are feeling anything but tranquility.

Doctors syndicates certainly have voiced their own reservations. Roque da Cunha, president of SIM, the independent syndicate of doctors, has told Observador, that the health plan “certainly would have deserved greater ponderation by the government. At the same time that it empties the competences of the general health directorate, it presents a last-minute plan (…) even in the day-to-day, INEM has a great deal of difficulty guaranteeing services” – thus whether or not things can run smoothly with another 1.5 million people in the capital, Roque da Cunha cannot tell.

FNAM, the national federation of doctors, is considering protest actions during World Youth Day. Their representative too says the whole health strategy appears to have put together “at the last minute”.

For now, there is time for refinements. World Youth Day is exactly six weeks away.

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