Health minister Manuel Pizarro is a long way from the heady balm of his ‘grace period’ when he took over the job from Marta Temido. Image: Tiago Petinga/ Lusa

Government seeks to follow through hotly-contested plan to hire 300 Latin American doctors

Doctors to be placed principally in Lisbon and Algarve regions

Portugal’s Socialist government appears to be serious about a plan to hire between 200-300 doctors from Latin America to work temporarily in Portugal.

The idea is to make up for shortfalls in health centres, particularly those of Lisbon/ Vale do Tejo and the Algarve.

It is a plan championed by health minister Manuel Pizarro – a man already far removed from the period of grace when he first took on the post – who, as secretary of state for health in another Socialist government sought doctors from Cuba, Uruguay and Colombia for similar reasons.

The issue with this decision – and the one now on the table – is that those within the sector do not believe that it works – principally because the standards of training in Latin America do not match those required of doctors in Portugal.

CEMP, the Council of Portuguese Medical Schools, is particularly scathing, saying this decision will simply serve to “open Pandora’s Box” (or rather, reopen it) and “will not solve any problems”.

Carlos Cortes, the head of Portugal’s Ordem dos Médicos (Order of Doctors/ General Medical Council) dubbed the decision “mechanisms that seek to lighten the quality of training (…) We are completely opposed, and have drawn up an opinion, stressing that the assessment of specialities must be done on a case-by-case basis, not least because training is disparate as are professional experiences (…) We have nothing against foreigners as long as their qualifications are at least equal to those of the Portuguese” doctors, he added, which clearly is not the case here.

According to Público today, the government is intent on turning a deaf ear on these warnings, and following through with the plan which would take the health service through to the end of 2026 (the year in which the country is due its next round of legislative elections).

Reports in the past have also suggested these doctors will be earning an effective pittance in their roles in Portugal as most of the money goes to the governments in their country with which Portugal’s government is dealing.

All this has to be seen in the context that Portugal’s doctors syndicates are  in the middle of ‘complicated negotiations’ with the government over salary scales and conditions, and currently in the middle of a three-day strike – with more actions scheduled if there is no breakthrough in talks that have led nowhere over the last 14 months.

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