national health service crisis - Portimão Hospital
Portimão Hospital Photo: OPEN MEDIA GROUP

Doctors “especially worried” about A&E crisis in Algarve

Reinforcements needed to meet summer demand

Doctors are calling for urgent reinforcements in the Algarve as Portugal’s national health service (SNS) crisis continues to deepen and particularly affect pregnant women, with several hospitals across the country unable to keep their obstetrics and gynaecological A&E units open.

Such was the case again last weekend in Portimão, where the local state-run hospital’s obstetric unit was closed from Friday afternoon to 8am on Monday morning.

Four pregnant women had to be transferred to Faro Hospital over the weekend, said Ana Vargues Gomes, president of the administration board of the Algarve University Hospital Centre (CHUA).

As time has proven, these are not ‘one-off’ situations. There is a very real possibility that the maternity and obstetric blocs in Portimão could close again soon due to a lack of paediatricians, Gomes told Lusa news agency.

Whether this happens again or not is dependent on “doctors from service providers” – if they “don’t show up or cannot work, we face constraints,” she admitted.

Gomes did say that CHUA “has a plan that can be implemented whenever it is necessary”, but details were not revealed.

Meanwhile, the president of Portugal’s Ordem dos Médicos (general medical council) says the Ministry of Health should carry out special reinforcement of doctors in the Algarve.

The region is entering the busiest months of its summer season, and hoteliers and tourism authorities estimate that the Algarve may welcome even more holidaymakers than the record-breaking year of 2019.

As Miguel Guimarães from Ordem dos Médicos stressed, the Algarve’s population can increase from around 500,000 outside of summer to 1.5 million in the busiest months.

However, there may not be enough time to ensure the Algarve has enough doctors to meet demand.

“It is very unlikely that the situation will be resolved by this summer,” Guimarães told CNN Portugal last weekend, adding that the region’s issues do not boil down to just the paediatric and obstetric specialities.

“There is a group of specialities that will need more (doctors), be it in Faro or Portimão,” he said.

Algarve unable to attract doctors

The issue of the Algarve being unable to attract new doctors has been highlighted yet again, this time by the head of the University of Algarve’s Faculty of Medicine.

While the university’s 72 vacancies for its Master’s degree in Medicine are almost certainly going to be completely filled next school year, only around 40% of students end up working at the region’s hospitals.

“The environment at the hospitals is very tense,” Isabel Palmeirim told Antena 1 radio, stressing that new health professionals should be treated with more care.

Even tenured doctors end up leaving the Algarve due to the unwelcoming work environment found at state hospitals, Palmeirim added.

By Michael Bruxo
michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com