Hospitals in rupture: doctors accuse government of “deliberately destroying public health services”

A second Portuguese hospital in 24-hours has announced “a situation of rupture”.

With resignations ‘en masse’ (in Setúbal, see ‘briefly’ section), warnings in the south (click here) and in general (click here), the National Federation of Doctors (FNAM) has today highlighted the parlous reality at Lisbon’s Hospital de Egas Moniz where the majority of planned surgeries “are not happening” due to a lack of anaesthetists.

What is happening, however, is that these interventions are being passed to private/ SAMS clinics and hospitals, yet still paid for by the State.

In other words, the State is paying private healthcare providers to do public health work.

Says FNAM’s delegate João Proença, it is a “deliberate policy to destroy public health services and hand everything over to outsourcing businesses”.

This has been the principal concern of doctors throughout the country for many years. The Algarve particularly has been suffering from this kind of approach (click here).

As João Proença told TSF radio: “As they (State health authorities) don’t open job vacancies, outsourcing businesses hire doctors from outside the hospital, who earn three or four times more than public health doctors – more than heads of service”.

What is happening at Egas Moniz, what has just happened in Setúbal (click here) “is not unique” but it looks way beyond a ‘problem authorities mean to sort out’.

Jorge Roque da Cunha, secretary-general of SIM, the independent syndicate of doctors, explains the Ministry of Health has had years in which it could have “created conditions for the hiring of doctors to the service”. Instead it has consistently fallen back on private service-providers.

“For an idea of how much this is costing, more than 150 million euros are spent, in the country, with these providers”, he told TSF.

And all the while the systemic failings within the health service remain untackled.

The government has been “completely deaf” to all the warnings: whether they come from doctors working in State hospitals, syndicates or even the head of the General Medical Council (Ordem dos Médicos), says Jorge Roque da Cunha.

The approach is “pernicious”, he stresses – a preference for the paying of doctors “who have no obligation to construct teams” while hospitals everywhere approach ‘situations of rupture’, as they have in Setúbal, Egas Moniz and as has been threatened in the Algarve.

For now the government has pledged to hire 10 new doctors for Setúbal – but FNAM and SIM would say more like seven times this number are needed.

All this is playing out as the government is presenting its State Budget for next year to parliament for discussions while the governor of the Bank of Portugal has warned spending next year must be ‘prudent’.

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