Oncology Institute set to move out of Lisbon

PLANS TO move the Instituto Português de Oncologia (IPO), the Portuguese Oncology Institute, from its present Central Lisbon location have triggered concerns among patients and health professionals.

Currently occupying seven-and-a-half hectares between Praça de Espanha and Sete Rios, the IPO performs around 180,000 consultations each year, with most patients coming from the Greater Lisbon area, but some from the Alentejo, the Algarve, Madeira and the Azores as well.

Patients have found it increasingly difficult to negotiate the long distances between the 15 buildings in the institute. Some of the buildings concerned are random ‘add-ons’ to the structure, first built in 1927, that occupies an area equivalent to more than seven football stadia. Users also complain that travelling to the centre, via the busy Sete Rios terminal, is draining and debilitating.

The government, aware of the potential windfall (130 million euros) from selling the site, now appears to be searching for an alternative location. Health Secretary António Correia de Campos has revealed that he prefers to construct a new centre from scratch. Building work would then start within two years and the new facilities would open to the public within five years. But, if another site is not found, the government has pledged to undertake a 100 million euro rebuilding programme on the current site.

Oeiras is possible site

All parties agree that the facilities are antiquated and in urgent need of an overhaul. Dr. Ricardo Luz, president of the Administrative Council of the IPO, has revealed that plans to move the institute have been on the table for 12 or 13 years, and that only a supreme effort and sacrifice from health professionals has enabled the IPO to uphold its good reputation.

One of the possible areas for relocation is Oeiras. Isaltino Morais, President of Oeiras Câmara, has apparently presented four possible alternative sites for the new IPO, but has declined to specify the exact locations, revealing only that one is municipal property and the others are privately owned. He also said that any potential move of the IPO to Oeiras was not a surprise since it had been under discussion since November. “The relocation of the IPO to Oeiras would enrich the social and business fabric of the concelho,” said a spokesman from the local authority.

Reaction to the possible move has been mixed. Vítor Veloso, Secretary General of the Portuguese League Against Cancer, described the news as “disturbing”, but said he would not oppose it as long as there is no hiatus between the transfer of patients from the old structure to the new. He agreed that it would be difficult to carry out an extensive refurbishment programme while patients were using on-site facilities, but stressed that he would like to see the service remain in the capital, an option also favoured by Lisbon Mayor Carmona Rodrigues. “In Lisbon there are many state owned areas, all funded with public money. It could remain on municipal grounds as long as they balance the books correctly,” Rodrigues said. Some patients have also supported calls for the institute to remain in the capital, expressing concerns that the relocation of the facilities to Oeiras would involve an added journey.

But Manuel António, president of the Administrative Council of the Portuguese Oncological Institute of Coimbra, supported the sale. “The site has a great real estate value. Proceeds from the sale would cover a great part of the new construction,” he said.

Patient care would not be compromised

Dr. Ricardo Luz, from the IPO, spoke to The Resident’s reporter Gabriel Hershman and explained the reasons behind the planned move. “The basic point is that we need new buildings. Several new buildings have been added on over the years, but they have not been planned in a methodical way. So now we have 15 different buildings with long distances between them. We operate an internal bus service to transport patients, but the buildings are simply not as functional as they should be and to rebuild on the same site would be very expensive,” he said.

Dr. Luz guaranteed that patient care would not be compromised in the event of relocation. “Our main concern rests with the characteristics of the site but, above all, its accessibility to patients and personnel,” he said. He refuses to express a personal preference for the new location, saying the final decision resides with the Health Ministry.

Dr. Luz, who has worked extensively in Britain, told The Resident he was surprised that the news should cause so much attention. “For me, it’s a perfectly normal evolution, similar to what happened to UCL (University College – London). We need to plan ahead for the next 40 or 50 years and ensure that we have the best possible conditions for our patients,” he added.