Over 6700 surgeries cancelled as doctors stage two-day ‘strike’

After taking out a full-page ad to explain their beef with “a lying government” (click here), the country’s doctors syndicates walked-out at midnight last night in a ‘work-to-rule’ that will see more than 6700 surgeries cancelled along with 142,263 programmed consultations.

The strike that comes as the country prepares for the Pope’s visit to Fátima – and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are tramping the nation’s roads – promises to create an atmosphere of chaos, particularly as nurses too are mounting their own ‘go slow’ in tandem.

According to tabloid Correio da Manhã – the paper that carried the doctor’s Open Letter to Portuguese citizens earlier this week – the movement of health service patients are fully behind strike action – brought, explain the professionals involved, because the government is “progressively degrading the quality of medical care” that doctors seek to offer.

Indeed, the Open Letter warned of institutional “myths and lies” which doctors claim are being used to “intoxicate public opinion and the media”.

The syndicates stress that minimum services will be “scrupulously adhered to”, with sessions of chemo- and radiotherapy already planned for Wednesday and Thursday (May 10 and 11) was well as dialysis, internal emergency services, organ harvesting and transplanting, continuous palliative care and IVF treatments all “guaranteed”.

The nitty-gritty of the strike centres on the struggle for a 150-hour limit to overtime (instead of the current 200 hours), a 12-hour limit to shifts on casualty wards and the “reposition” of 100% overtime payments for ‘extra hours worked’.

But the issues go much deeper. As the Open Letter explained, doctors are not the highest paid civil servants in Portugal – far from it – and they have not timed their action to coincide with preparations for the Pope’s visit. The dates were laid out weeks in advance, say medics – before even the government agreed to call an unofficial Bank Holiday on Friday, which consequently sees minimum services at health units and hospitals continue for a third day, to be followed by the habitual constraints of a weekend.

RTP news this morning points out that while doctors’ go-slow ends at midnight on Thursday, the nursing unions work-to-rule will be continuing indefinitely.

The only ‘good news’ here, is that nurses pledge to “dedicate the time necessary to each patient” and refuse to “be hurried” to attend more patients than they, the nurses, deem feasible.

A bit like strikes that have hit the NHS in UK, health professionals in Portugal blame the government for trying to ‘save money’ by hiring professionals from private service companies, instead of paying their own staff properly.

Hiring temporary cover saves money that would be spent on salaries and the resulting “TSU” (unique social tax), despite the fact that the annual bill runs to many millions of euros, syndicates explain.

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