Almost half of the doctors working in public hospitals are over 55 years old, which means they can legally refuse to work in the emergency services.
A shortage of obstetricians has forced several Portuguese hospitals to temporarily close their emergency maternity units or operate with reduced staff, raising fears for the safety of women.
Public holidays and the spread of COVID-19 among medical workers have long aggravated the structural problem of doctor shortages in Portugal.
“We are in a situation of rupture and, if a solution is not found quickly, (more) service closures are imminent”Carlos Cortés, regional head of the regulatory body Order of Physicians, told the Lusa news agency.
Patient advocacy group OVO warned that “serious situations” such as neglect could arise due to shortages. Public prosecutors opened an investigation Tuesday after a woman lost her baby at a hospital hit by staff shortages.One of the largest hospitals in the country, the Amadora-Sintra in Lisbon, referred patients to other hospitals for 12 hours until 8 am on Thursday.
Hospital units in Montijo and Portalegre, a municipality near the Spanish border, also saw closures and other national health service (SNS) emergency maternity units plan to close on Friday and through the weekend.
The government on Wednesday announced a contingency plan that included announcing 1,639 vacancies for medical specialists. The Minister of Health, Marta Temido, admitted, however, that the harsh working conditions of the SNS discourage potential applicants.
As in other countries such as neighboring Spain, thousands of Portuguese doctors and nurses have left the country in search of better salaries and prospects in wealthier nations.
According to the Order of Doctors, about 50% of Portuguese obstetricians work in the private sector or abroad and Almost half of those who work in public hospitals are over 55, which means they can legally refuse to work in the emergency services.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.