Health services ‘set to rupture over summer’

The perennial wrangle between the government and health service unions has reached new heights, with predictions of a ‘summer rupture’ and mounting chaos.

“We don’t have (enough) doctors, urologists, anaesthetists, orthopedists, obstetricians, among many other specialities, but what does the government decide to do to overcome the problem”, quizzes popular tabloid Correio da Manhã, compacting the words of president of the doctor’s association Miguel Guimarães. “It decides to close services, instead of reinforcing the (medical) teams”.

In the run-up to another busy summer – and during the recent Bank Holiday weekends – various maternity units have been forced to close their doors, albeit temporarily.

In the Algarve, expectant mums in western districts have been twice faced recently with the prospect of long journeys to Faro as they go into labour, because Portimão’s unit has had to shutdown through lack of available obstetricians.

Elsewhere, the situation is much the same, with as many as 13 units at risk in the north. Say reports today, the crisis is due to be debated by health chiefs in Lisbon on Tuesday.

Maternity issues however are only a fraction of the ongoing problems. Nationally, the SNS health service is said to be lacking as many as 500 anaesthetists, which means surgeries in all specialities are impacted.

Making matters worse, private hospitals which take up the slack by performing surgeries that have exceeded the State system’s time-limits, are threatening to stop as they haven’t been paid (click here).

Over the weekend, TV commentator Marques Mendes suggested the health service today is worse than it was under the centre-right in the dark days of the Troika.

Mendes lays the blame squarely on finance minister Mário Centeno for simply not making enough money available.

For now, the question of maternity units closing on a rotating basis around Lisbon has elicited concern from President Marcelo who points out that “you cannot shutdown births”. They “happen when they happen” and “can’t be told to wait a bit”.

Health minister Marta Temido is not accepting the criticisms of chaos however, saying her service has “many difficulties” but “it is not in chaos” – while the bottom line (as it has always been) is that doctors cannot be lured to places like the Algarve, where sources tell reporters 66 doctors of various specialities are needed to face up to the needs of the summer.

Meantime, last week’s ‘uplifting news’ that parliament had voted to abolish “taxas moderadoras” (costs) at health centres has morphed substantially. Ruling Socialists now say they cannot abolish the charges right away, as it would cost the health service too much money.

The message is that these costs will be ‘phased out’, starting sometime next year.

Rounding off the dismal litany is the fact that doctors of legal medicine (morticians) will be holding a two-day strike on Wednesday and Thursday, claiming they too are understaffed.

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