hospital corridor

Doctors strikes go forwards; health ministry tables new meetings

14 months of ‘negotiations’ reach crunchpoint

After 14 months in which negotiations could have been taking place (but mostly didn’t) doctors are infinitely closer to the strikes they have been threatening – and the health ministry is reported to be ‘tabling new meetings with syndicates’ for next week.

As things stand today, FNAM – the national federation of doctors – will be striking on Wednesday and Thursday next week (July 5 and 6), and has further dates in August in their sights.

SIM, the syndicate of independent doctors, has said it will be calling its members out on strike on July 25, 26 and 27 – and has also hinted at further dates in August.

Last weekend’s ‘news’ in Correio da Manhã that ‘doctors were going to be offered salary increases of 30%’ could not, in the end, have been further off the mark. It is sounding like whatever doctors have been offered, is full of ifs, buts and maybes – and certainly not satisfying syndicates’ demands.

With FNAM’s strike now ‘unavoidable’, it is understood the federation will be meeting with health ministry negotiators on July 7 (Friday) and 11 (Tuesday). This far, FNAM’s president Joana Bordalo e Sã, has accused them of “treating doctors like biscuits in a factory”, criticising the plan to increase pay according to a set of criteria on productivity

If FNAM’s August strike is confirmed, she told reporters it will take place in the week that the World Youth Day event is being held in Lisbon (in other words, at a point when all public services are expected to be stretched to the limit, if they haven’t already snapped…)

Both syndicates are at their wits’ ends with frustration. As Bordalo e Sã stressed, it has taken 14 months of government dilly-dallying to reach this crunchpoint. And all doctors have to work with is a  proposal, she said, “that looks like a draft…” (very possibly it’s the same draft Correio da Manhã saw last weekend). It has a lot of parts that doctors do not agree with (particularly in the way that it ‘leaves medical interns behind’, thus the first meeting on Friday will centre on FNAM’s counter proposal).

“We have no alternative left”, Bordalo e Sã said yesterday. “We had hoped to lift (our strike notice) if this draft, which is an agreement in principle, had included some of our demands. (But) they are not even contemplated, and the measures do not safeguard doctors, nor the youngest doctors”.

When questioned about what it would take to change the FNAM’s position, Joana Bordalo e Sá said that “all doctors would have to be contemplated with a real increase in salaries (…) A salary increase is only foreseen if doctors produce more, but doctors don’t work like in a factory. They work in a health center or a hospital seeing patients, attending and helping patients. You can’t use production methods in this area“, she reiterated.

SIM feels exactly the same. In fact it has asked FNAM to join its strike on July 26, says Lusa.

But these latest strike dates are just part of a summer of real ups and downs in the State health sector. There is a “calendar of strikes”, explains Lusa, “in various modalities and regions, which begins on July 24 with an overtime strike in health centres and ends on September 21 with a strike in the northern region”.

Medical interns are also holding two days of strike action on August 16 and 17 (following on from the August 15 Bank Holiday)

Remember last summer when the head of the general directorate of health told Portuguese preparing for their annual summer holidays: “August is a very bad month to get ill”… well, this year, her advice appears to apply to July, August and September…

The health ministry’s ‘next meeting’ with SIM has been tabled for this Wednesday, when colleagues in FNAM will already be into their first day of two days of strike action.

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