Hospital Santa Maria, in Lisbon Photo: JOÃO RELVAS/LUSA

SNS health service faces strikes as doctors, nurses and pharmacists say “enough is enough”

Health professionals are planning to demonstrate against the dire state of the national health service (SNS) and what they believe to be a lack of basic working conditions – a series of strikes will take place throughout the coming weeks.

Chief among them is a three-day general strike called by SNS doctors which will take place between November 23 and 25.

The strike action is being organised by the National Federation of Doctors (FNAM) and Independent Doctors’ Union (SIM).

At the heart of the decision is the SNS’s fragile situation, “further hampered”, say doctors, by the proposed measures for the public health sector included in the government’s draft State Budget (OE22).

“This strike aims to demand the financing of the SNS. We have to move on from words to acts,” said SIM secretary general Jorge Roque da Cunha in Coimbra last week, adding that doctors have given the SNS “eight million hours of overtime” in the last year and can “no longer take it”.

“We are doing this with a heavy heart because we know that this can affect our patients, but it is in the hands of the government to prevent it (the strike). Now is the time to say ‘enough’ for the good of the SNS,” Roque da Cunha said.

As Jornal de Notícias points out, seven nurses’ unions have already called a strike towards the end of November and INEM emergency service workers will be holding a strike on October 22.

The national health service’s issues “are well identified and date back well before the pandemic”, said FNAM president Noel Carrilho.

The first issue that needs to be addressed is the need to “match doctors’ working conditions to their responsibilities and workload. We need a serious negotiation for a collective working agreement to bring the profession into the 21st century,” Carrilho said.

Addressing the €700 million boost in investment included in the government’s provisional State Budget, the FNAM boss said it is “so insignificant that it barely deserves our consideration”.

Despite the SNS’ chronic issues, from a lack of health professionals to inadequate conditions, both FNAM and SIM say they have not been welcomed for a meeting by Health Minister Marta Temido since the current government took office in October 2019. They are hoping this will change by the end of November.

Roque da Cunha insists that doctors want to be a part of the solution and not the problem.

“Unions have already signed 36 agreements with several institutions, having been part of the solution to keep the SNS afloat. I’m not being a catastrophist, but if nothing is done in terms of investment to keep doctors in the SNS and to create conditions for them to feel comfortable with regards to access to (medical) means and equipment, it will be impossible to continue like this,” added Roque da Cunha.

Pharmacists call “first strike in 20 years”
Meanwhile, “for the first time in 20 years,” SNS pharmacists are calling a six-day strike in what they describe as a “last resort”.

The strike will run between October 28 and November 2.

“No other class has conceded as much as pharmacists, who have always hoped for a better future,” said Henrique Reguengo, president of the national pharmacists’ union (SNF).

But their patience has run out, and the strike has been called in hopes that something will be done to respond to the sector’s demands.

“This strike is born from the despair of pharmacists (…). All our attempts have had no feedback from the government,” said Reguengo, adding that there are “serious issues that must be addressed.”

The pharmacists’ demands include creating the “pharmaceutical residence” (described by Lusa news agency as the training they must undergo before beginning their career), opening tenders allowing pharmacists to progress in their career and reviewing and updating salaries based on pharmacists’ academic and professional qualifications.

SNS attracts “less than half of new doctors”
New data revealed last week has highlighted the SNS public health service’s struggles to attract new doctors.

The data, cited by national tabloid Correio da Manhã, shows that more than half of Portugal’s new doctors have ‘steered clear’ of the SNS in recent years. In fact, numbers show that only 4,231 of the 8,824 new doctors who joined the General Medical Council (Ordem dos Médicos) in the last six years have gone on to work for the SNS.

The tendency has seemingly worsened recently. Out of the 1,776 new doctors who joined the ‘Ordem’ between 2019 and 2020, only 521 went on to work for the SNS.
CM adds that the annual average of new doctors joining the ‘Ordem’ is 1,764, while the average joining the SNS is less than half (846).