Mário Jorge Neves (right) hopes doctors syndicates back up his criticism before government interference becomes 'monstrous'.
Mário Jorge Neves (right) hopes doctors syndicates back up his criticism before government interference becomes 'monstrous'. Image: Manuel de Almeida/ Lusa

Government accused of “liquidationist offensive against doctors/ State health service”

Coordinator of Public Health Reform commission resigns, with blistering letter

The PS government – already at loggerheads with multiple unions in the public sector  – now faces new outrage over its ‘framework law for professional entities, and the new Statute for the Order of Physicians (Ordem dos Médicos).

According to the coordinator of the commission for public health reform, “these governmental measures constitute a violent and scandalous attempt to liquidate the elementary legal competencies of the General Medical Council and of political and governmental interference in the autonomy and technical and scientific independence of the medical profession”.

In a blistering letter sent to the Secretary of State for Health Promotion, Mário Jorge Neves claims the government has set out to ensure free competition overrides everything,crushing guarantees of quality in the exercise of the medical profession and levels of safety of acts performed by physicians. 

“In the name of this free competition, it even goes so far as to make it possible to exercise the medical profession without the need to be registered with the Order of Physicians,” he says, suggesting the measures should “go on record as a dramatic example of the political-ideological capitulation of the Socialist Party to the most extreme Thatcherian-inspired neoliberalism.

“I will not lend myself, under any circumstances, to play the role of collaborator with any kind of attack on my dignity as a doctor,” affirms Neves, in the letter to which CNN Porutgal has had access.

Among issues raising major red flags in the new Statute, he stresses, for example, the creation of “internships” and the fact that doctors at the beginning of their professional activity will no longer be considered intern doctors and just become “trainees“. 

The work contract becomes an “internship contract” and the monthly salary becomes a “monthly internship grant. 

“These are more than enough provisions for us to easily conclude that the Government is opening the doors wide for the subsequent liquidation of the medical career and the establishment of extreme labor precariousness among younger doctors,” he continues.

Already in the new framework law, “provisions are aimed at reinstating the climate of political commissariat, initiated in 1988, with party-political nominations for various levels of management in public health services that have been a decisive factor in the erosion and weakening of the SNS health service“, he criticizes. 

There is the plan for a “so-called non-medical ombudsman, establishing the creation of a supervisory body to regulate the exercise of the medical profession, presided over by a non-medical citizen and made up mostly of non-medics which goes to the extreme of intervening in the definition of rules for professional internships and even the specialties themselves, establishing disciplinary bodies integrated by non-medics”, he explains – denouncing the very notion as “monstrous”. (“Not even in the times of the dictatorial regime that was ousted in April 1974 was there the political impudence to go this far”, he insists.)

“When I became aware of the new framework law for professional orders and the new statute of the Portuguese Medical Association, I understood that, as a free citizen and with good habits of political coherence and ethics, it was unavoidable for me to take a position”, Neves justifies his resignation. “The brutal gravity of these measures imposes on my civic conscience an imperative of energetic intervention in the struggle that inevitably lies ahead.”

Says CNN, Mário Jorge Neves was a leader of the Students Association of the Faculty of Medicine of Lisbon, from 1978 to 1981 and a member of the secretariat of the Meeting Inter Students Associations of the Lisbon Academy (R.I.A), from 1979 to 1981. He was president of the Medical Doctors Union of the Southern Region and vice-president of the National Federation of Medical Doctors (FNAM) in three alternate mandates. In 2021 he was awarded the Medal of Merit of the Order of Physicians.

Besides coordinating the Commission for Public Health Reform, he is also coordinator for the preparation of the New Report on Medical Careers of the Portuguese Medical Association, a member of the Advisory Board for the SNS and for medical careers of the Portuguese Medical Association and a founding member of the António Arnaut Health Observatory.

Contacted by the news organisation, Neves has declined to comment further: “I think my motives are well explained in the letter I presented to the secretary of state”, he said, stressing that his concern was to lay out criticism of the measures that will have direct repercussions on both doctors, and the Portuguese health sector as a whole”.

Speaking subsequently to Lusa news agency, Neves has said he hopes the General Medical Council will take “an energetic position in defense of its existence and of the profession itself”. Otherwise, “it may as well hand over the key…”

Source: CNN Portugal/ Lusa