Luís Montenegro, PSD leader - Photo: Manuel de Almeida/ Lusa

“There has never been so much disinvestment in Portugal’s health service”

Could current dramas be about dismantling Portugal’s public health care?

With crisis on practically every front of the SNS national health service, the question being asked time and again is “is this a plan to destroy the SNS national health service?”.

Speaking in the wake of another bloc of nurses handing in refusals of responsibility over the impossibly low staffing levels and deteriorating work conditions, PSD opposition leader Luís Montenegro has stressed that at no time in the albeit short history of Portugal’s State health service has there been “so much disinvestment”.

Critics can “come with all the bogeymen arguments that they want”; talk of neoliberalism within the PSD; of “difficult governance” when Portugal was under the orders of the Troika – but “there is no historical moment in which there has been greater disinvestment in the SNS; in the quality of service provided and in its capacity to have more and better professionals”, than in the years of Socialist government, he said.

Even worse, not only do PS Socialists seem unable to accept this, they appear content to keep spouting the mantra that “everything is fine”

This latest crisis within obstetrics could be the crunch point, suggests the PSD leader.

“There are more than enough reasons for the prime minister, health minister and government to to take direct responsibility”, but they don’t.

The way he sees it “everything that happens in Portugal is the fault of someone other than the government”.

According to Lusa, Montenegro’s use of irony inferred the government has reached the point where it believes citizens will accept that the SNS “would be fine” they could just avoid falling ill… 

The reality is that this is now a “daily drama”. Headlines today refer to nurses being “demotivated and exhausted”; to emergency care, particularly emergency obstetric care, being ‘at risk’, and to the mothers of the country’s future generation being ‘alarmed’.

APDMG, the association for the rights of women in pregnancy, believes this is all a  warning of the imminent death of the SNS health service. “It is as if there is a curse on this summer”, said APDMG’s Isabel Valente, whose association has even written to health minister Marta Temido to ask ‘how many babies have to die’ before the crisis is resolved.

We did not get here by chance”, argues Luís Montenegro. “First, because there has been a major disinvestment in public services in general and in health services in particular, and second because of ideological stubbornness – because the health system in Portugal does not have a coordinated and complementary way of associating the SNS with the private and social sector”.

Writing today in tabloid Correio da Manhã, president of the general medical council Miguel Guimarães explains, for the umpteenth time, that structural solutions are needed.

“We could and should already have advanced with reforms at various levels”, he explains.

The new health statute, promulgated by President Marcelo (with major reservations) was simply a bit of (fairly pointless) theatre. “We don’t need a new SNS statute for the SNS to start its transformation”, explains Guimarães, while leader writers have tackled the nub of today’s urgency: “A country that hesitates over the care of those giving birth is a country without direction. A country where specialist doctors send a letter to the government saying they can no longer be made responsible for failings in attendance is a country that has given up on its future”.

Given up on its future, or is giving up on its public health care? That is the question.