The healthcare ‘safety-net’, which sees surgeries scheduled in by the State performed by private hospitals when these cannot come through in time, is at risk.
Right now, anyone earmarked for surgery at a public hospital can elect to go private if the delay extends beyond six months.
Health vouchers, as they are called here, are issued, with a selection of private hospitals for patients to choose from.
As a result, many private healthcare providers – particularly in the Algarve – are extremely busy, clearing what would otherwise be a gargantuan backlog for the State.
But according to reports, many haven’t been paid since 2017.
Just one Lisbon hospital, the Ordem Terceira Chiado, claims it is owed over €6 million for 3,250 surgeries.
Said clinical director José Domingos Vaz on Friday, the number of ‘health vouchers’ issued is “increasing brutally”.
Patients “with health vouchers in their hands” are now “looking for private hospitals that will take them” because “no one wants to do these surgeries”.
Doctors in private hospitals have reached the stage where they feel they are “working for nothing”, said Vaz.
Within hours of this story breaking, under-secretary of state for health Francisco Ramos was telling State news agency Lusa that the situation was well on the way to being brought under control.
The information was “a sign of alert for (public) hospitals to settle outstanding payments more quickly”, he said, “guaranteeing that debts would not increase this (crucial election) year”.
He stressed the State has “reinforced finance” of the public health system, so that “by the end of the year, or even sooner, after the summer, outstanding payments would be close to zero”.
Ramos admitted nonetheless that delays in surgeries of the kind that impel State to use private hospitals “could take place because of the effects of the recent ‘surgical strikes’ by nurses” (click here).
And if there are doctors in the private system who refuse to operate, these situations will only be “sporadic, and of little significance”, he assured.