The most common chronic disease in Portugal is called ‘waiting list’
Patients have to wait 3 years to see a urologist in Vila Real or an ENT specialist in Leiria and 2 years to obtain an appointment with a cardiologist in Guarda. These extremes not only occur in the countryside, as the waiting list for a neurological consultation at Amadora Sintra – one of the biggest state hospitals in the country – exceeds more than a year.
Is it a wonder, that citizens – especially the ones who can afford it – turn to the private sector, where waiting periods – due to more specialists – are half as long as in the National Health Service (SNS).
The average waiting period for (non-acute) specialist care in Portugal is 4 months, varying from 6 months for an ophthalmologist to 6 weeks for an obstetrician. Patients who have to wait for more than five months have – by law – the right to be treated in the private sector. A costly buffer as the SNS, respectively the taxpayer must pay the bill.
‘The SNS is overstretched, needs more specialists, family doctors and in particular more funding. Specialists are overworked and underpaid, 750.000 citizens still have no family doctor and the government spends less on ‘health’ than the average EU member state’, says Miguel Guimarães, president of the Medical Association. ‘Last year we received a red cart from the Euro Health Consumer Index for our poor accessibility to (non-acute) specialist care and the yellow card for our lack of general practitioners.’
The excessive waiting lists are – according to the independent trade union of doctors Sindicato Independente dos Médicos – mainly the result of the fact that specialists in state hospitals have to spend too much – almost half – of their time to emergencies. The majority of the specialists working in the SNS is therefore unsatisfied. Many want to abandon the service and either go into private practice or leave the country, where working conditions are better and the pay higher.
‘Wages are indeed low, excess hours abundant and career prospects nil’, explains Maria Ferreira of the Public Health Department of the University of Porto, who conducted an investigation under 15.000 doctors in northern Portugal. ‘Half of the recently qualified doctors is thinking of leaving the country after finishing their specialization and over 1200 doctors have already left in the past 3 years.’
Although the right to healthcare is enshrined in the constitution, lack of accessibility affects poor people most as the private sector is no alternative to them. The only they can do is hope for the best and wait.
Bom fim de semana Have a great weekend (photo’s Público)