Swine flu pushes National Health Service costs

Swine fu has contributed to piling an extra 44 million euros onto the Portuguese National Health Service’s (SNS) debts for 2009.

The SNS tripled its negative balance for the year between January and September of this year.

At the start of the year, it had a roll-over 27.1 million euros debt from the year before, but by the end of September that figure had risen to 71.1 million euros.

That debt increase is substantially related to costs incurred from the swine flu epidemic, including those from hospitalisations, vaccines and treatment, analyses and exams and medical professional overtime and outsourcing.

To cope with rising costs, the Ministry of Health, has already made 20 million euros available to four hospitals: São João (Porto), HUC (Coimbra), Santa Maria and Curry Cabral (Lisbon).

Each hospital is to receive five million euros to help them offset H1N1 influenza treatment costs.

The flu pandemic has also increased hospital debts with pharmaceutical companies which now top 585 million euros.

The financial impact of swine flu on hospitals could add 10 per cent onto costs by the end of the year, according to some sources.

Pedro Lopes, President of the Portuguese Association of Hospital Administrators, was reported over the weekend as stating that the flu pandemic had aggravated National Health Service debt by 22.4 per cent.

But he also said that health service problems were also in part due to bad hospital management.

Portugal’s hospitals clocked up losses of 218 million euros between January and September 2009, whereas in 2008 the deficit had stood at 178 million euros.

A study ordered by the Ministry of Health has concluded that swine flu has cost Portugal a total of 740 million euros in health care and days off work.  

So far 30 people have died of the H1N1 virus in Portugal, a figure that Ana Jorge, Minister of Health, says was expected considering the spread of the epidemic.