Portugal's minister of health, Manuel Pizarro (Photo: PAULO NOVAIS/LUSA)
Portugal's minister of health, Manuel Pizarro (Photo: PAULO NOVAIS/LUSA)

Only go to A&E when “seriously ill,” minister urges

SNS making “big effort” to provide best care at A&E departments

Portugal’s minister of health on Wednesday called on citizens to only go to A&E departments when they are “seriously ill.”

Speaking to reporters this Wednesday, Manuel Pizarro said that the SNS is making a “very big effort” to provide the best possible care to Portuguese who use accident and emergency departments.

“When there are very large influxes, as has been the case on some days, it’s more difficult to attend to them promptly,” he told reporters in Coimbra when asked about the pressure on hospital units.

Manuel Pizarro once again appealed to people to only go to the accident and emergency department when they are “seriously ill” and to contact in advance the SNS24 Health Line, which has received more than 62,000 calls since December 26.

According to the minister, who was speaking on the sidelines of the reception ceremonies for the Pharmaceutical Residency and Medical Internship training, the critical period in hospital accident and emergency departments due to seasonal flu is likely to continue for the next two weeks, “even if it is mitigated by a very good vaccination programme”.

Manuel Pizarro said that the government is looking to “create alternative care mechanisms” through primary health care, with the opening and expansion of opening hours at health centres.

“We have to organise the system with structural changes that are essential and create alternatives to solve a chronic problem in the SNS, which is the excessive influx to accident and emergency departments that has existed for decades and should concern us,” he stressed.

He emphasised that a “profound” reform of the SNS is underway, with the creation of 222 Family Health Units (USF) and 31 new Local Health Units (ULS).

“It’s an ongoing process. These changes don’t produce all their results the day after they are implemented. We certainly need months to be able to consolidate the system that reserves accident and emergency departments for those who really need them,” said the minister of health.

Pointing out that last weekend alone more than 13,000 people were seen in health centres, Manuel Pizarro considered that the situation in accident and emergency departments “would have been much more difficult if this hadn’t happened”.

“Primary health care is the right door to enter the SNS, in which we can and must combine quality with proximity and have a virtuous link with hospital-level care when necessary,” he emphasised.

Associated with this idea, the minister of health said that the reform of accident and emergency departments, which he called a “chronic disease” of the SNS, cannot be put off any longer, because of the “excessive” influx of patients.

In 2022, there were 63 accident and emergency department visits for every 100 Portuguese, while the average for the most developed countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is 27, less than half,” he said.

For Manuel Pizarro, this problem has “no simple solutions” and not even the lack of family doctors for more than 1.5 million people, especially in the south and Tagus valley, is responsible for the large influx of patients to accident and emergency departments, since the influx “is the same in the north, where everyone has a family doctor”.

“If we aren’t able to restructure emergency departments so that they are no longer the point of entry to the SNS, we won’t be able to take advantage of all our policies, because one of the very serious problems is the hyper-concentration of attention and availability of health professionals in accident and emergency departments,” he said.

Source: LUSA