An archive image, again exemplifying the chaotic nature of winter season demands on hospitals, which invariably see patients stacked up in corridors on makeshift beds
An archive image, again exemplifying the chaotic nature of winter season demands on hospitals, which invariably see patients stacked up in corridors on makeshift beds

Hospitals on knife-edge

“Chaos in A&E can only get worse” as temperatures fall

With doctors still maintaining their work-to-rules over overtime – and politicians focused on either singing the praises, or trashing the results of the last eight years of Socialism – the truth is that hospitals are buckling under the habitual ‘extra pressure’ that falling temperatures bring.

More and more people are developing respiratory infections and other ailments only to arrive at A&E departments that are less and less equipped to care for them.

Says SIC Notícias, “Santa Maria hospital hasn’t received so many patients since the summer. There are people waiting since last Friday for a hospital bed”.

With a deep-rooted ‘crisis in social care’ impounding the health service crisis with bed blockers*, and strikes and work-to-rules by healthcare workers, the results are “chaos”, particularly in hospitals’ first ports of call: A&E departments.

Right now, almost 40 hospitals are registering “difficulties attending people” (for that read serious backlogs/ packed waiting rooms). Santa Maria’s woes are now being mirrored in the capital’s Garcia de Orta hospital, and warnings from all hospital bosses are that these issues “can only get worse”.

Lisbon particularly – by dint of the size of its population – is most in the headlines, with various hospitals forced to shut certain specialities (usually emergency obstetrics and pediatrics). In Loures (Lisbon outskirts), the Beatriz Ângelo refused to accept any ambulances yesterday: today the situation is better.

But elsewhere other vital services, like general surgery, have had to shut, for example, at night (Braga). In between all this information is the reality that very little is being done by the outgoing government to try and ‘fix’ the root causes of all the problems: lack of dialogue with syndicates, intransigence over salary demands, etc.

Last month, the heads of the emergency department at Garcia de Orta ‘resigned en masse’, citing errors in timetabling (shifts made up either with very young, and/ or agency doctors), which, they claim, pose a “high risk for the population”, as well as for the doctors themselves.

Exactly a year ago, the heads of emergency departments at the same hospital also resigned en-masse, citing exactly the same complaints – yet nothing has changed.

The overriding appeal by hospital hierarchies is for anyone who believes they need emergency treatment in hospital to first contact the SNS 24-helpline on 808 24 24 24. But the way through this difficult moment in the calendar appears to be a continuous dark tunnel.

*Bed blockers are people who are ‘well enough’ to be discharged from hospital, but who do not have the necessary conditions to return home. They need ‘social care’/ are often elderly, with various pathologies, and the social care system does not have the capacity to take them.

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