State pays €50 million out to agencies “just to keep hospitals going”

With Portugal’s national health service in a state of crisis, a newspaper investigation has revealed that the State is paying millions of euros to employment agencies, “just to keep services going”.

In the first six months of this year, the bill for contracted labour exceeded €47 million.

Now, that tally is up to “over €50 million”, confirms tabloid Correio da Manhã – and still rising.

The paper claims that after analysing “more than 150 documents”, it has been able to see which health units spend the most, and which employment agencies come off the richer.

Kelly Services, for example, a “multinational present in 30 countries, received almost €5 million” this year – with the regional health administration of Lisbon and the Tejo Valley spending most of it: €3.3 million.

The health authority hired personnel mainly for its casualty departments, with anaesthetists making up much of the numbers.

But the health ministry has responded with the assertion that this year’s bill is actually lower than that of the last few years – and government policy is only to resort to outside labour when “all internal resource possibilities have been exhausted”.

Needless to say, the association of Portuguese health authorities is unimpressed. “We know many services in casualty departments run in deficit, either secured by these outside companies or not secured in any way at all”, president Alexandre Lourenço told CM.

The problem always returns to (lack of sufficient ) hiring policies, and is not helped by the fact that “very often” the doctors hired “are not sufficiently able” or as experienced as those working full-time in national hospitals, he added.

President of the Doctors Association in central Portugal Carlos Cortes said another major stumbling block with outside agencies is that they “do not comply with their contracts” and thus “create serious situations” when it comes to clinical hierarchies.

With the health ministry pledged to hiring more doctors, the truth, says Doctors Association president is that salaries and conditions within the national health service are “very bad, very aggressive”, and so the problems persist.

Set against this gloomy status quo, Miguel Guimarães – another doctors association boss, in the north of the country – predicts chaos over Christmas, due to even more acute internal staff shortages and “excessive recourse” to agency staff.

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