A human chain formed around Faro Hospital as part of yesterday's protest as Dr José Ponte's damning assessment of the problems at the hospital was published online. Image: Luís Forra/ Lusa
A human chain formed around Faro Hospital as part of yesterday's protest as Dr José Ponte's damning assessment of the problems at the hospital was published online. Image: Luís Forra/ Lusa

Dozens demonstrate in Faro in support of whistleblowing doctor Diana Pereira

As Professor Emeritus takes to print to say “citizens have no idea of risks they run when treated at Faro’s surgical service”

Dozens of people came together outside Faro Hospital yesterday in a show of support for ‘whistleblowing doctor’ Diana Pereira whose allegations of botched surgeries are now under various investigations.

But as Lusa reported on the initiative, and heard from one of those behind it that “Diana had the courage to denounce what no one else has been brave enough to”, a veritable bombshell was delivered by doctor and Professor Emeritus at the University of the Algarve José Ponte.

Writing for the local Portuguese online Algarve Postal, Dr Ponte’s opinion piece was published very much at the same time that 50 or so citizens began their protest.

Entitled simply “The Algarve deserves better”, the nine damning paragraphs validate observations early on in this drama that the young doctor “has opened Pandora’s Box”.

“The citizens of the eastern Algarve have no idea of the risks they run when they are ‘treated’ in the surgical service of Faro Hospital”, writes Ponte.

I have been aware of the since I was director of the Medical Course at the University of the Algarve (2008-2013), and of which I alerted the hospital administration during my mandate. I also made my opinion public, in the local press in 2011, to the great consternation of the installed powers.

“The action of my colleague Diana Pereira, in denouncing the serious negligence she witnessed, is a rare attitude that only a doctor with high ethical standards and great courage does, faced with a corrupt system where mediocrity hides mediocrity

“The true extent of the problem goes far beyond Diana Pereira’s denunciation and can never be accurately evaluated given that there is no honest and effective auditing of the services. And I don’t think the Ordem dos Médicos (General Medical Council) “investigating” the problem will take any other attitude than one of compromise with established power. 

“The present situation at Faro Hospital could have been sorted out months ago if political guardianship was free of promiscuity in the nominations of administrators. Both the Minister of Health and the Executive Director of the SNS were alerted several times to serious problems that compromise the health of the Algarve’s population, but chose to do nothing. 

“The Faculty of Medicine of the University of the Algarve was forced to suspend the placement of students in internships at Faro Hospital because it recognised the lack of minimum quality standards in various services

“I have no illusions that most decisions taken by politicians give top priority to their personal interests followed by the interests of the party. The interests of citizens count, to a small extent, only during the short period of elections. Unfortunately, the serious problems at Faro Hospital are not unique to the country. There is no culture of patient safety in Portugal with systems in place like, for example, in the civil aviation industry. It will take generations to progress in this direction. 

“I live in London, where I spent most of my career as a doctor, spending short periods in the Algarve. I must confess that when I’m there (in the Algarve), I live with the constant worry of ending up involuntarily in Faro Hospital, as a patient, if I have a surgical emergency. 

“I hope that Diana Pereira’s courageous report will be one of those “me too” moments, that will encourage more colleagues and patients who know about, or are victims of, the serious problems at Faro Hospital to come forward and denounce this situation – a disgrace for the Algarve, and for the country”.

It will be hugely difficult now for any investigation to be ‘swept under a carpet’, or fumbled – which is exactly why the citizens who turned out yesterday took their action.

Placards quizzed “how much noise can silence fill?” – an indication that there is indeed a perception that complaints of the past will have been stifled.

As one of the organisers Nídia Silva told Lusa, the afternoon “aimed to show gratitude to the doctor who had the courage to denounce 11 cases that occurred in the hospital”, allegedly between just two months of this year. “Doctor Diana” had the courage to denounce what others “don’t have the courage to”, she said.

The protest was in no way against doctors and nurses, stressed Nídia Silva. “Doctors are human and they make mistakes, but errors have to be admitted, and it’s up to the administration to correct situations that are not right“, she said.

To re-cap on this story, Diana Carvalho Pereira went public with her claims earlier this month, after filing a complaint with PJ Judicial Police against her former training supervisor as well as against the director of Faro Hospital’s Surgery service.

According to the surgical intern, of the 11 cases she reported, three of the patients died, two were in intermediate care at the time of the complaint, and the rest suffered what Lusa news agency refers to as “bodily harm associated with medical error”. 

If the bodily harms are as the 27-year-old surgical intern described them, they include “accidental castration” and the need to be fitted with a colostomy bag “for the rest of life”.

Diana Pereira – heard last Wednesday at Portimão Hospital as part of the internal enquiry set up by the Algarve University Hospital Centre (CHUA) – has asked for the suspension of her internship while investigation proceedings are underway.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened a process to investigate the complaints, while the general medical council (Ordem dos Médicos) has announced the creation of a technical-scientific commission of experts/ independent doctors, to evaluate the reported cases.

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