Health reform starts at home

Healthcare should be the responsibility of individuals and not just of the state, according to the Prime Minister, who also advocates placing restrictions on the advertising and sale of alcohol and tobacco. Speaking at the presentation of his National Health Plan in Lisbon, Durão Barroso said: “The state is responsible for guaranteeing public health and creating the conditions and priorities to access healthcare and promoting an authentic culture of good health. But citizens should adopt a more healthy behaviour and, therefore, ration their use of the health services.” The proposed plan makes clear that the need to ration health care more effectively will lead to a reduced doctor to patient ratio. At the moment, there are 72 medical experts for every 100,000 people, but a reduction to 69 per 100,000 is envisaged for the year 2010. Barroso gave an example to illustrate his point. “Let’s say a person is a drug addict and receives warnings about his behaviour. But, against the advice of family, friends and the healthcare system, he continues with his drug addiction. The question then is, who is responsible for his behaviour?”

However, the Prime Minister insisted that the state had a role to play: “We have a National Health System and we are doing everything we can to save it. If we had not introduced reforms, it would already have reached breaking point. But we also have to draw people’s attention to the need to educate themselves about good health.” The government’s new Public Health Plan is aimed at improving health at every stage of life, from childhood through to old age, with special attention being paid to some of the most common illnesses – cancers, cardiovascular illnesses, AIDS and depression. The plan is a technical document presenting a series of strategies for promoting health between now and 2010, and was due to be presented before the Portuguese parliament for discussion and ratification on February 18.

Another measure to be introduced will be the creation of a telephone advice service to give information about more routine health issues and, hopefully, free up urgent hospital services. In addition, the government is contemplating officially reclassifying AIDS as a chronic illness, thus ensuring that all medication is free for those afflicted.

False blood requests:

The IPS – the Portuguese Blood Institution – has announced that a series of e-mails, allegedly from the service, requesting the recipient give blood, are hoaxes. “All the requests that people have received contain false telephone numbers, names, health centres and patients that have never existed. This is truly a sick joke,” said the manager of IPS, José Almeida Gonçalves. He explained that it is the IPS’s responsibility to obtain blood for patients and that, when they haven’t got the type they need, they have a research mechanism to find out whether other medical facilities have a supply. “We don’t go around asking people to donate blood through e-mail,” he explained. He also revealed that, last year, the Portuguese public donated 320,000 blood units.