By: CHRIS GRAEME
IN THE government’s third reshuffle, the Minister for Health, António Correia de Campos, and Culture Minister, Isabel Pires de Lima, had decided to quit respectively for health reasons and conflict of interest with parliamentary duties.
Prime Minister José Sócrates appointed Ana Jorge, head of paediatrics at Almada’s Garcia do Orta Hospital, as the new Health Minister. However, the replacement has occurred against a backdrop of mounting dissent over hospital closures, spiralling waiting lists, and several tragic and unnecessary accidents in units around the country.
The new minister said she would continue the reforms begun by Correia de Campos “without provoking demonstrations among the population and health professionals”. Of her predecessor, Ana Jorge said she “regretted the complex relation the country’s citizens had with the Portuguese National Health Service (SNS).”
Ana Jorge had also been quoted as admitting that the policy of closing down Accident & Emergency units “before having adequate alternative arrangements up and running” had been “badly thought out”.
She has also supported home care nursing to avoid patients clogging up hospital corridors on trolleys, criticised closing down maternity units in the interior and slammed “disloyal, unfair competition” from the private sector where SNS doctors were “rushing after their shifts to attend private patients”.
In the government’s reshuffle, many believe that at the insistence of President Cavaco Silva, the President of the Justice and Liberty Forum, José António Pinto Ribeiro, replaced Isabel Pires de Lima. In her official resignation letter, the minister stated that it had been impossible to exercise her duties as a parliamentary deputy, which she had held since February 2005, and carry out the role of culture minister.
However, behind the scenes she has widely been blasted for incompetence and inefficiency, as well as a series of verbal faux pas. Attending a ceremony, Isabel Pires de Lima could not remember the new title for the cinema institute, Instituto do Cinema e Audiovisual (ICA), formerly the Instituto do Cinema, Audiovisual e Multimedia (ICAM). Film director António Pedro Vasconcelos accused her of being “completely useless” and of having “let Portuguese cinema rot”.
Then there was the problem of the country’s ongoing museum crisis, which lead the majority of Portugal’s public museums to hand in an official complaint to the government signed by 21 of 30 museum directors in May 2007 stating that “without money they couldn’t operate”.
Led by the director of the Ethnological Museum, Joaquim Pais do Brito, the complaint stated that lack of money had caused a reduction in staff, partial closure of galleries and reduced opening hours.
Yet 27 museums had all registered record visitor numbers in 2007 with 1,243,051 visitors against 1,050,259 in 1996.
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