Santa Maria Hospital

Inquiry opens into case of Brazilian twins receiving €4 million worth of treatment on SNS 

TVI investigation points finger at Marcelo having ‘pulled strings’

Yet another ‘furore’ blew up over the weekend, inferring President Marcelo had ‘pulled strings’ to get twin babies from Brazil treated with one of the most expensive drugs in the world – at the expense of Portugal’s State health Service (the same service currently wracked with internal issues).

President Marcelo, already in the public eye over ‘less than diplomatic remarks’ at last Friday’s ‘Diplomatic Bazaar’, sought to quash the story, but today sees IGAS – the general inspectorate of health activities – announcing that it has opened an inquiry to “check whether all the rules applicable to this specific case have been complied with”.

According to Lusa, “later today, Inspector General, António Carapeto, will meet with the Board of Directors of the Centro Hospitalar Universitário Lisboa Norte, which includes the Santa Maria and Pulido Valente hospitals, “so that this body can inform him of the internal measures already adopted”.

The situation arose after a report transmitted on Friday evening by TVI claimed that twin Luso-Brazilian babies whose parents live in Brazil came to Portugal in 2019 to receive the relatively new ‘wonder drug’ Zolgensma for spinal muscular atrophy

The cost of treating the two babies with this drug was €4 million – and, according to TVI, says Lusa, “there are suspicions that all this was facilitated by the influence of the President of the Republic”. That is actually putting the situation as obliquely as possible: the mother of the babies was filmed telling TVI’s reporters that the treatment was all made possible because of a ‘cunha’ (strings being pulled/ doors being opened) by the President of the Republic… (This saw the president admit on Saturday that if he had to, he would go to court “to compare my truth with the truth of this person”…)

TVI’s report also inferred that: “When the Lusa-Brazilian twins arrived at Santa Maria Hospital to receive the four million euro treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, neuropediatricians objected and wrote a letter in November 2019 to the then chairman of the board, Daniel Ferro, stating their reasons: lack of money and the fact that the children were already receiving treatment in Brazil”.

That letter then ‘vanished’ (at least that is what TVI appears to have been told). Since the broadcast however, it has resurfaced.

In a note sent to newsrooms on Sunday, the board of directors of the Centro Hospitalar Universitário Lisboa Norte (which has responsibility for Santa Maria Hospital) confirmed that it had received a letter from the neuropediatricians and that “the case will be dealt with internally”.

Also on Sunday, President Marcelo denied yet again that he had intervened in any way to ensure the babies could benefit from treatment at the expense of Portugal’s State health service.

“I said yesterday (Saturday) that I hadn’t done that. I didn’t. I didn’t speak to the Prime Minister, I didn’t speak to the Minister (of Health), I didn’t speak to the Secretary of State, I didn’t speak to the Director General, I didn’t speak to the President of the hospital, the Board of Directors or the doctors,” he told journalists.

As the country’s head of State pointed out, what is at issue is whether he “interfered, or didn’t interfere, that is, if (he) asked for a commitment, asked for strings to be pulled so that a certain solution favourable to the wishes of two sick twin children would happen.

“Looking at the (TVI) report, nobody comes out and says that I spoke to this person. Nobody. It is said, ‘it is rumoured, it seems so, it seems so, it seems that (the President’s) family was involved, out of friendship, in this’. But nobody in relation to the President. And there is only one President. The President’s family was not elected, they are not the President,” Marcelo went on – insisting that the President of the Republic cannot be subject to a “suspicion that he interferes in decisions in the administrative chain, ordering, recommending, asking, opening doors for anyone, much less those who may be closest to friends of acquaintances”.

Thus what has rapidly taken on the contours of a tortuous Brazilian telenovela continues to dance across the media, if a trifle uncomfortably.

The nation will now wait to hear what IGAS’ inquiry comes up with. ND