Doctors begin two day strike with protest outside health ministry
Image: Lusa

Doctors begin two day strike with protest outside health ministry

Syndicates rail against “disastrous policies” pushed by minister Manuel Pizarro

With the working of Portugal’s State health service already hanging by threads, doctors mounted a new two-day strike today, accompanied by a demo, scheduled for this afternoon outside the Ministry of Health in Lisbon.

FNAM, the national federation of doctors – and one of the most vehement in demanding improvements for doctors’ working conditions – has echoed warnings voiced recently by the Order of Physicians that the State health service is being pushed to the point of ‘catastrophe’.

The government’s approach to doctors’ demands “risks deaths and other tragedies”.

FNAM believes its insistence on industrial action will result in “a crucial shift” in political attitudes, that will ‘save the State health service’ and the professional status of doctors who work in it.

In a statement released today, the federation said: “Over the last 18 months the health policies practised by Manuel Pizarro’s ministry have been disastrous, with negotiations dragging on and on without reaching an agreement with real solutions for doctors… The domino of tragedies that have been announced and the potential fatal events that may occur, given the closure of emergency departments from the north to the south of the country, are the sole responsibility of the health policy that has been practised by Manuel Pizarro’s ministry”.

This latest strike (lasting until 00.00 hours on Thursday) is just the latest in a long line of strikes that have been exacerbated by the refusal of around 2,500 doctors to perform more than the legal stipulation of 150 hours of overtime per year.

Manuel Pizarro has said of the ban that emergency departments in the past have relied on doctors performing ‘extraordinary hours’ to operate. He cannot see that being able to change, he says.

For FNAM, “it’s not legitimate to ask doctors to do even more overtime work beyond the legal limits, to increase the daily working day to nine hours, to include Saturday work as normal work and to lose the right to compensatory rest after working a night shift, in a new work regime that the ministry has chosen to decree unilaterally”.

Battle lines showed signs of relaxing last week when the ministry sketched out a potential new pay deal, involving a supplement of €500 per month for doctors who work in accident and emergency departments and the possibility of opting for a 35-hour week.

But there was nothing firm. It was just a proposal, which both FNAM and SIM (the independent syndicate of doctors) stressed they had to study carefully.

That said, both syndicates say they are fully prepared to meet the government “in good faith” for a new round of talks on Thursday.

Said FNAM’s leader Joana Bordalo e Sá: “We welcome the apparent approximation of positions, but we won’t be convinced unless there is a guarantee of equality for all doctors, in terms of salaries and working conditions, without loss of rights and without jeopardising the safety of doctors and patients”.

She stressed she is hoping that Thursday’s meeting will bring “a historic agreement, equal to saving the medical career and the national health service”.

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