New hospital system awaits green light

The Algarve’s public health sector was thrust back into the limelight this week after angry citizens protested outside Portimão Hospital to demand “more health professionals and better conditions” at the region’s hospitals and health units.

Complaints focus on how the quality of medical care in Portimão – and the rest of the Algarve – is steadily declining. Meanwhile, a new “university hospital management system” that promised to solve many of the region’s recurring issues is stuck in bureaucratic limbo.

For a region that bills itself as one of Europe’s top tourist destinations, this is not the kind of news anyone wants to see making headlines this summer.

But the truth is that the declining quality of the Algarve’s public health services is often in the news, especially during July to September when the region’s population skyrockets and pressure on public hospitals and health centres becomes “almost unmanageable”.

This is the message protestors were making as they waved banners outside Portimão Hospital on Saturday.

Many told TV crews that specialties like cardiology, neurology and psychiatry “no longer exist” at the trouble-torn hospital.

“Others, like orthopaedics, ophthalmology and otolaryngology only work sometimes.”

Another gripe centres on the delays at the hospital’s understaffed casualty department – an issue that has stalked the region for years.

What citizens want is to see the CHA hospital management board – blamed for all the problems, and in charge of the Algarve’s three hospitals (Lagos, Portimão and Faro) – replaced as soon as possible.

This was promised months ago, but the reality is that nothing has changed.

The way forwards – a new model dubbed CHUA (standing for Algarve University Hospital Centre) – is “in the hands of the finance ministry”.

Designed to incorporate not only the region’s hospitals but the São Brás physiotherapy centre and the University of the Algarve, health boss Paulo Morgado has said he is convinced the new set up will “solve the hospital-related issues that the Algarve has struggled with”.

In an interview with Barlavento newspaper last month, Morgado said all that stands in the way is a final green light from the finance ministry.

The idea is to give “much more autonomy” to key areas of Algarve health.

“We want to have strong intermediate management bodies, which will have the authority to deal with over 90% of situations,” he explained.

Agreeing wholeheartedly that the old CHA was a failure, he admitted it has left the region’s hospitals “considerably worse off”.

“In Portimão it affected many services,” he said, echoing the specialities highlighted by last Saturday’s protest.

Word “university” to attract health professionals

Despite all the problems, Paulo Morgado said that he hopes a revamped hospital management system – with the word “university” in its name – will attract more doctors and nurses to the Algarve.

“Just the fact that we are adding the word ‘university’ is a significant upgrade in terms of the image,” he said.

“But it’s not just about the word. We have an academic centre which is very dynamic, has doubled the number of its clinical trials and has the possibility to grow even more.”

Morgado added that there are a series of projects in the works involving the University of the Algarve that promise to “bolster medical education and clinical investigation at the new CHUA”.

“I have no doubts that this new model will attract good and motivated health professionals,” he concluded.

By MICHAEL BRUXO [email protected]

Photo: Citizens protest outside Portimão Hospital as they claim healthcare “continues to decline”