Shortage-doctors

Lack of doctors, just when reinforcement is needed after Covid19

Despite the fact that Catarina Martins – the leader of the Left Bloc (BE) – regards the National Health Service (SNS) as ‘a pearl of democracy’ and its workers ‘heroes and heroines’, working conditions are poor and staff shortages in public health-threatening. Let’s first take a look at the situation at the doctor level.

More than 1 million users of the SNS do not have a family doctor, most of them living in the region of Lisbon and the Tagus Valley. A situation that hasn’t occurred since 2015.

The Minister of Health – Marta Temido – acknowledges that the number of general practitioners has sharply regressed but justified the shortage by the substantial number of retirements and an increase of 60.000 subscribers to the SNS – due to the demand for vaccinations.

In the first half of this year, more than 230 doctors retired from the SNS – 131 of whom were practitioners in general and family medicine – the minister revealed, whereas last year 653 doctors departed from public health service.

To counter this departure, she wants to open up an extra 400 vacancies for general and family medicine to provide some 650.000 Portuguese with a general practitioner. But whether these vacancies will be filled is the question.

About one-third of all vacancies for newly trained doctors in both hospital and primary care were left open last year. Some doctors preferred to wait for more lucrative positions in the private sector or even abroad, after finishing their internship.

Unfortunately, this has become the trend in recent years. ‘What confuses me is that everyone knows it but doesn’t do anything about it’, states Jorge da Cunha, secretary-general of the Independent Trade Union of Doctors. ‘The SNS isn’t attractive enough to keep young doctors in service as long as there are profitable possibilities in private practice’.

The tragedy is that there are fewer doctors at a time when significant reinforcement is needed to recover what is left undone during the pandemic. In the first year of Covid19, there were 46% fewer physical consultations in primary care, 30% fewer in hospital, and 25% fewer surgeries realized.

The Portuguese League Against Cancer estimates that over 1000 cancer cases (breast, colorectal, cervix) have been missed due to a halt in screening services during the pandemic. ‘The last 1½ year have been spent on counting fatalities from a virus that barely claimed the lives of half the number of people dying from cancer every year’, its spokesman complained.

Stay healthy                                    Fique saudável                     (pic Público)








Displaced

Portuguese institutions are better prepared now’ – Ghalia Taki, Syrian refugee

When Mustafa decided to flee Iraq five years ago and reached Portugal – via Syria, Turkey, and Greece – he was convinced to get asylum quickly. What he didn’t know was that the country was – at that time – ill-prepared in taking care of refugees, especially from the Middle East. Living conditions were poor, asylum procedures slow, and recognition of diplomas problematic. Most refugees felt utterly lost and fled the country in search of greener pastures up north.


Since then a lot has changed for the better. Portugal has positioned itself at the forefront of welcoming refugees and already hosted – under various international programs – nearly 3000 refugees, living in 26 municipalities across the country.

The government of António Costa repeatedly states that ‘the welcoming and integration of refugees is a priority, to which a continuous effort is dedicated, involving national and local authorities, private entities and civil society.’

Now, five years later, Samir – who arrived at the same time as Mustafa under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Resettlement program – no longer wants to leave the country, where his children are integrated and show excellent grades in school.

Besides via the UNHCR, the country also receives refugees under EU Relocation programs. One of them is aimed at the more than 5,000 unaccompanied minors stuck in refugee camps in Greece of which already 121 have been accepted by Portugal.

The country is currently the 4th EU member state that takes in the most unaccompanied minors, after France, Germany, and Finland. These adolescents – mostly boys between 14 and 17 years old – are initially being housed in temporary shelters in Lisbon and the northern and central regions.

Cláudia Sabença, director of the Specialized Reception Centre at the Red Cross – which coordinates the unaccompanied minors program – emphasizes that these youngsters have serious emotional problems (nightmares, anxiety) and that insufficient mastery of the Portuguese language complicates a smooth integration.

The Government also provides support in the event of Emergency Rescue operations at sea and has hosted so far 243 people saved from the Mediterranean.

The fact that the country is willing to receive over 400 Afghan refugees – above all women, children, activists, and journalists – is one more sign of its hospitality.

‘Portuguese institutions are better prepared now and have more information about culture and people’s needs”, says Ghalia Taki, a Syrian refugee, who works as an interpreter and recently obtained the Portuguese nationality, albeit six years and ten months after arriving in the country.

Stay healthy                Fique saudável            (pic Público/Lusolobo)