Portuguese family doctors sound new alert about Covid tunnel vision

A second group of doctors in Portugal has published a new warning about authorities’ Covid tunnel vision.

After the appeal just over a week ago from specialists to “recover the right to live again”, an Open Letter to the Portuguese people has been published by GPs (Médicos de Família” who re-emphasise the fact that focus on Covid over the past 16 months has seen “an increase in mortality due to other illnesses”.

The letter explains that since authorities started ‘battling with Covid’, 13.5 million face-to-face appointments with doctors and/ or nurses in health centres up and down the country have bitten the dust.

“GPs and other health professionals have been permanently and continually mobilised for tasks related to the pandemic”, says the text, “giving no chance to respond to citizens’ normal health necessities, leaving them unprotected, without access to health centres and as such the entire National Health Service”.

This latest warning comes as a meeting between the government and experts at Infarmed next Tuesday is due to define the next steps in Portugal’s approach to the pandemic.

It also comes in the wider context that the Covid vaccination programme seems to be moving from a ‘one off mass inoculation exercise’ to one that could go on for years, and include the nation’s children (click here).

GPs penning their names to this appeal stress that while the country is “mobilizing over the 9% of the population that up till now have had contact with the virus”, health centres “are desertified without the capacity to react or anticipate the needs of the population.”

Why hasn’t the health ministry defined “any kind of feasible strategy” for non-Covid patients? “Where is the universality of care”, they ask.

“We question why the same model has been maintained for months, not adapting to the current situation of the evolution of the pandemic. 

“Where is the personalisation of care? We ask why nothing has been done to guarantee the provision of healthcare to all our patients, in terms of prevention and treatment of illnesses.

“Where is the globality of care? We ask why all units in the country have to respond to the same objectives and in the same procedures without the necessary local adjustment.

“Where is the autonomy of health centres? We question why we continue to have a broad and non-communicating set of computer applications that make it necessary to double (sometimes triple) registration work.

“Are the information systems really used to simplify work”, the signatories query.

The letter describes family doctors’ ‘exhaustion’ over the excessive amount of tasks related to the pandemic which include “many weekends and Bank Holidays” while their own ‘voices’ (opinions/ suggestions) “are ignored by those with the power to make decisions.”

Very much like the appeal sent out by doctors and pharmacists earlier this month (click here), these family doctors defend it is time to “allocate other professionals and change the model of approach in the combat of the pandemic”.

It’s time to “fully open health centres, with local adaptations if necessary, to allow GPs to do what they have to.

“We want to get back to normal, to continue to defend our patients, guide them through the health system, achieve effective planning, restore accessibility to care and our own functions as family doctors, through all the stages of life from birth to death!

“We have to find a balance that allows us to take care of all patients.

“We know the duties we have for citizens who trust us. We demand the conditions to allow us to continue treating and caring for those who need us most, in cases of illness and in health.

“We are here and we remain available to be part of the solution, not the problem. Our patients know that they can always count on family doctors. This way everyone knows”.

It is a powerful letter, strangely not widely publicised by the media. Diário de Notícias/ TSF radio carried it, but other than these linked outlets, it is not easy to find.

Issues with health centres struggling to function however are: in another Open Letter, Aljezur council this week sent out a plea to the government to sort out the dire need for doctors at the health centre (click here).

In the end, this is the problem – those with powers to make decisions seem to be making them without the consensus of their troops which resort to Open Letters that may win a moment in the spotlight but then ‘disappear’ from the public eye.

The appeal just over a week ago by doctors and pharmacists to recover the right to live was largely sidelined, even though it got a good level of exposure on daytime television.

As we write this text a mass rally in Lisbon is about to get underway – mirroring protests scheduled in other cities throughout Europe and the world. 

Portugal’s ‘branch’ of World Wide Rally for Freedom reiterates the situation of a “health service in suspension”, with “Portuguese continuing to die… through negligence!”.