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Friday Briefing: The strange case of Portugal's decaying NHS

Good morning and welcome to PORTUGAL DECODED. Today, we look at how the National Health Service went from success into chaos.

Visualization courtesy of OODA

POLITICS

André Ventura was re-elected President of far-right CHEGA with 98.9% of votes at the party’s 6th National Convention last weekend. On Tuesday, youngsters assaulted and evicted an Expresso journalist from a Ventura campaign event in Lisbon (More).


The centre-right Democratic Alliance (AD) promised to cut income and corporate taxes, raise wages, reduce debt and achieve a budget surplus if elected. But its leaders didn’t explain yet how they plan to achieve this (More).


SOCIETY

Starting this week, e-cigarettes will have the same rules as conventional tobacco. However, initial legislative proposals to ban all types of smoking next to schools, universities, hospitals and sports venues, as well as terraces were dropped (More).


Two rockfalls partly destroyed scenic Praia do Pinhão in the Algarve. No one was hurt, but the danger posed by coastal erosion, one of the most vivid effects of climate change in Portugal, has led authorities to forbid access to the area (More).


ECONOMICS

Portugal’s posted an external surplus of €7.5 billion up to November, compared to a deficit of €600 million in 2022. The results put the Ministry of Finance on track to bring public debt to below 100% of GDP before the elections (More).


Lisbon Cruise Port hit a record high last year, with traffic growing 54% in 2023. In 2024, the city began charging a per-passenger fee of €2 during port calls. The measure is projected to raise €1.2 million annually (More).


CULTURE

Porto-based OODA architects revealed Hora Vertikale, a new residential project in Tirana, Albania. The design, which is scheduled for completion in 2024, resembles a vertical village and includes a park (More).


The Another Policy for Culture movement will hold a public tribune in Lisbon on January 26 and a protest in Parliament a month later against precarious jobs, low salaries, the lack of housing and evictions of cultural associations (More).


IN FOCUS

WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THE NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE?

Not long ago, international observers praised Portugal’s National Health Service for its reaction to Covid-19 and even US Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke highly about it. But, today, it’s undeniably in crisis. Read on to understand what is going on:


Why is there a crisis?

  • The crisis is a result of decades-long structural problems including low wages, outdated equipment and inefficient bureaucracy. To make matters worse, doctors, nurses, technicians, and technicians began a series of strikes and refused to work overtime in Emergency Rooms (ER).

What do they want?

  • Medical practitioners demand better pay and working conditions. Salaries have not changed since 2009. A specialist physician has a monthly starting wage of €1,853 and a nurse €1,200. “Doctors work overtime, without rest, in small teams, often with insufficient and undignified conditions,” says the President of the Portuguese Medical Association. According to the OECD, Portuguese doctors are by far the worst-paid doctors in Western Europe, and in real terms, their wages have fallen the most between 2010 and 2020.

What are the consequences of the crisis?

  • One consequence is that staff is under greater pressure. This leads to a surge of holiday requests, refusal to do extra hours and absenteeism. Another consequence is the deterioration in the quality and safety of care. A further consequence is the difficulty in retaining quality professionals in the public sector. While the number of doctors in Portugal has almost doubled in the last 20 years, almost half work in the private sector.

How can the crisis be solved?

  • Recent numbers show that over 5 thousand professionals in the NHS will reach retirement age in 2024 so the need for reforms is urgent. So far, the Government has reached an interim agreement with one of the doctors’ unions to increase wages in January 2024. But a long-term solution requires a review of careers and greater spending on human resources that will fall to the next Government.

TIPS OF THE WEEK

In collaboration with Unique Portugal


Lisbon

Gisela João “Ten Years” at 8 Marvila

Gisela João, aka “the girl who sings fado in sneakers,” will celebrate the 10th anniversary of her career in style. She will play a concert at a new cultural venue – 8 Marvila – on January 20, 21pm, which will include guests and surprises on stage. Tickets are 20€ and are available here.


“O Cerco de Lisboa” at Lisbon’s Municipal Archive

© “Chegada” by Lara Jacinto

This exhibition brings together the work of seven Portuguese photographers to give visibility to people and places in Lisbon’s periphery. Curated by Spaniard Alejandro Castellote, the exhibition can be seen at Lisbon’s Municipal Archive until March 2, and admission is free.


Porto

“Deus na escuridão” by Valter Hugo Mãe

Award-winning novelist Valter Hugo Mãe will present his new novel “God in the Darkness” on Saturday 20, 4pm, at the São João National Theatre. Admission is free, but subject to picking up a ticket at the Theatre from 12 noon on the same day (maximum two tickets/person).


“Make Trouble” at Porto’s Municipal Theatre

© “Boca Fala Tropa” by Gio Lourenço

Theatre festival Make Trouble brings into dialogue 2 latitudes, 2 personal narratives. Gosia Wdonik connects us with the defence of women's rights in Poland; and Gio Lourenço, crosses between Angola and Portugal to the rhythm of kuduro. Tickets are 7€ and are available online or at its Rivoli and Campo Alegre centres.


Elsewhere

“Definitely the Bahamas” at Cineteatro Louletano, Loulé

Frank and Milly relish the visits of Michael, their charming and successful only child. But what exactly is his relationship to the young student living in their house? Martin Crimp's Definitely the Bahamas, first staged at the Orange Tree Theatre in 1987, takes on a new meaning today against the backdrop of rising nationalism. Between January 19-21 at Cineteatro Louletano, tickets cost 10€ and can be bought here.


Walk with Goats by Arrábida Walks & Crafts, Setúbal

A family-friendly walk to get acquainted with dazzling Serra da Arrábida. You'll enjoy panoramic views, while learning from one of the last shepherds in Azeitão and enjoying the company of his herd. The walk will take place, weather permitting, on January 21 between 15h30 and 17h00. Tickets are €10 per adult and €5 for children (including a picknick as well as insurance) and can be booked here.

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