Controversy is raging following the untimely death of two patients who were being treated in Lagos District Hospital. Both patients died before routine operations – Albufeira resident Albertina Fátima Estêvão, 44, died after she was admitted for a routine sinus operation and Rui Gonçalves died before an operation to remove a cyst. Albertina Estêvão suffered a cardiac arrest shortly after receiving an anaesthetic before her operation. She died minutes later on the way to Barlavento Hospital in Portimão, where she was being transferred to the emergency department.
The following day Rui Gonçalves suffered a cardiac arrest during the course of a routine operation shortly after an anaesthetic had been administered. He was also taken to Barlavento Hospital where he later died. The two patients were both operated on in Lagos under the Waiting List Reduction Programme. These two cases led the Regional Health Administration Body of the Algarve to suspend all surgical interventions at Lagos District Hospital while the General Health Inspectorate called an enquiry.
Director rapped, anaesthetist suspended
The initial findings from the General Health Inspectorate concluded that in both cases the anaesthetics were delivered before relatively minor operations. The findings led officials from the Health Ministry to start disciplinary proceedings against Clinical Director Pimenta de Castro and the anaesthetist in question at Lagos District Hospital, who was suspended for 90 days.
António and Rodrigo Estêvão, husband and son of the dead woman, Albertina Estêvão, said they “were certain that a mistake had occurred.” They said they would wait for the official findings from the report before “launching a lawsuit against the doctor and against the Portuguese state.”
António Estêvão said it was “unacceptable that an operation of this type had led to the death of my mother”, lamenting that the case “is an example of what can happen in Portuguese hospitals”.It is believed that the anaesthetist concerned is a young doctor who comes from Guimarães. A spokesman from the hospital refused to comment on the cases, citing official policy.
Despite these tragedies, and without commenting on the specifics of this particular case, a senior medical source told The Resident that people should not be unduly concerned about anaesthetics in hospitals. “What we do in hospitals has its risks,” he commented. “People dying after hospital anaesthetics is not unique to Portugal – it can happen in Germany, Holland or England. It can happen to anyone – no matter how young – if they have an allergic reaction. But during my time working in hospitals I’ve never seen anyone die under anaesthetic, so it’s far from common and people should not think anaesthetics are unsafe.”
Our expert pointed out that, although he was not acquainted with the hospital concerned, medical procedures in Portugal are constantly improving. “These days anaesthetics are much safer than ever before and properly qualified anaesthetists are on hand, so it’s important not to scare people. If something does go wrong it’s not necessarily due to medical incompetence and, of course, you are in the safest place – in an operating theatre.”