Nursing chief says the country’s health cover “hangs by a thread”

The dire situation of Portugal’s nurses within the state health system has been exposed by controversial nursing chief Ana Rita Cavaco – the same young woman who caused a major storm in February after she said that euthanasia was already practised in the country with regard to terminally ill patients (click here).

Once again, Cavaco made her comments to national radio following a five day fact finding tour of the country.

“What we found was dramatic”, she explained. “The health system and the national health service is hanging by a thread.

Just four nurses were available nationwide for urgent surgical intervention at night, she said while another six were on duty in health centres around the country serving 40,000 people.

The six “use their own cars to visit people without access to health care”, she added, stressing that against the backdrop of this ‘grave situation’, 13,000 fully-trained nurses remain out of the country, “because they emigrated”.

Much was made of the mass-emigration of nurses unable to find work in Portugal during the austerity years following the 2011 bailout.

But today’s reality is compromising hospitals’ day-to-day performance not to mention safety, says Cavaco.

Giving another example, she said her team had arrived at a casualty service to find just one nurse clocking on for the afternoon shift in which 55 patients were waiting to be attended.

“Can anyone imagine that one nurse can treat 55 patients on her own?” the head of the national nursing association asked. “She can’t”.

The many similar situations up and down the country are prompting the few nurses remaining in service to refuse to accept responsibility for the shifts they are being allocated, Cavaco added.

For now, there has been no official response to Cavaco’s diatribe, though health chiefs have affirmed they are committed to improving the ailing health sector.

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