Portugal’s General Medical Council (Ordem dos Médicos) has painted a catastrophic picture of the state of Faro Hospital’s paediatric A&E unit, with the president of the council’s South Region going as far as to say: “I don’t know how it is still open.”
His distressing statement came after a visit to the hospital on Tuesday (November 23).
“What worries me the most is that we were already here two years ago, at a time when there were catastrophic situations in the Algarve such as pregnant women being transferred and children waiting for (medical) assistance. Now, two years and a pandemic later, I think it is even worse,” Alexandre Lourenço told reporters.
The only thing keeping the paediatric and gynaecology/obstetrics A&E units open is the sacrifice made by the few specialists who can man them, he said.
Doctors are forced to put in “hours and hours” of overtime to ensure that Faro Hospital does not turn a single child or parent away, he explained.
“Next month, we have two doctors who, between them, will work 19 nights. This means that these doctors have gone way beyond the limit a long time ago. They cannot be with their families, they cannot have a life outside of the A&E,” the medical council boss said, calling for solutions to these problems which have been dragging for years and are “similar to many others affecting other specialties in other hospitals.”
The solution – hiring more doctors – seems simple enough but is difficult to implement.
“The paediatric service has three interns each year but is unable to retain them. They complete their speciality and leave (the Algarve),” Lourenço told reporters.
“What is needed is to create conditions to keep these doctors here and give them a career, with the possibility of being paid for the work they do and for their training,” he said.
But this is impossible with the way things stand at the moment in Portugal, he admitted.
“Laws need to be changed,” Lourenço declared, adding that political parties and their representatives must commit, “once and for all”, to improving the national health service (SNS).
“And that means strengthening it; having every one of them state in their electoral programmes that they will provide more money, more organisational means and more autonomy to hospitals and their services to fix Portugal’s health (sector) problems,” the Ordem dos Médicos president for the South said.
Indeed, if nothing is done soon, he warns that the paediatric A&E unit could close.
“I don’t even know how it is still running. It’s at risk. For example, if doctors aged over 55 stop working at the A&E unit, we will no longer have resident specialist doctors at the hospital,” Lourenço said.
As he pointed out, Faro Hospital is especially at risk as it is located 300 kilometres away from other public hospitals with a capacity to make up for its shortcomings.
“And we cannot transfer to Lisbon children or pregnant women in urgent situations,” he said.
While Faro Hospital’s doctors want to “continue fighting for the hospital”, there is also an overwhelming feeling of fatigue.
“They all say they want to continue fighting but they cannot last much longer,” said Lourenço, adding that there is a “huge risk” of medical staff resigning soon, which would leave families and their children with no other option but to resort to the private health sector.
Another issue making matters even worse is that “around 80%” of the A&E unit’s cases are “not considered serious and could be handled at health centres”.
However, scheduling an appointment at a health centre (especially if you are not assigned a family doctor) is far from an easy task.
“This is why we need to increase (the number of) these appointments and strengthen other areas where these patients can be treated. No one wants to wait 10 hours outside in the cold at night during winter,” he warned.
Ana Gomes, president of the Algarve University Hospital Centre (CHUA) administration board, also addressed these issues.
“We have had more than 250 children per day at the paediatric A&E. We do not have staff to respond to this,” she told reporters.
“It doesn’t make sense. We are taking in children who just have stuffed noses. When this happens, it is impossible not to have completely lagged waiting times,” Gomes said.
She added that CHUA is working with the Algarve health authority (ARS Algarve) to make sure people take their children to the appropriate services.
“Otherwise, this is completely unsustainable,” she said.
Original article written by Maria Simiris for Barlavento newspaper.