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Government presents new emergency plan for health sector

On Wednesday, the Government presented the new emergency plan for the health sector, which the Prime Minister, Luís Montenegro, promised to present in the first 60 days of his executive.

The plan is designed to be in force until 2025 as a response to the state that the Prime Minister described as "worrying" of the sector.

The plan is divided into five lines of action:

  • Timely Response: whose main objective is to end waiting lists for cancer patients;

  • Safe Babies and Mums: which defines measures for the safe referral of all pregnant women;

  • Urgent and Emergency Care: prioritising genuine emergencies;

  • Close and Family Health: which aims to guarantee doctors to those who need them;

  • Mental Health: which aims to give greater prominence to this issue in healthcare provision.

The plan is broken up into several “immediate measures” which aim to tackle the “most urgent problems:

  • Creation of a special regime for admitting doctors into the SNS with more than 2200 vacancies, of which about 900 are for new family doctors;

  • Elimination of the surgery waiting list for cancer patients – currently, 1,299 people have already been operated on;

  • Creation of a surgical program for non-oncological patients;

  • Priority at A&E departments for the most severe cases and referral of less urgent cases to clinical care centres;

  • Monitoring and referral of pregnant women through the SOS Pregnant line;

  • Financial incentive system to increase the capacity for childbirth and strengthen existing agreements with the social and private sectors;

  • Revision of the price list for agreed complementary diagnostic tests, particularly obstetric ultrasounds;

  • Hiring of 100 more psychologists for health centres;

  • Creation of a Mental Health program for Security Forces;

  • Freeing up beds occupied in hospital wards mainly by social cases.

The full plan is due to be “presented in 60 days, which includes various measures to achieve these goals in a defined timetable, measure by measure, in 2024-2025”.

The plan's presentation is available here (in portuguese).

First reactions

On the trade union side, the President of the National Federation of Doctors (FNAM), Joana Bordalo e Sá, told the Lusa news agency that the measures presented by the government are ‘temporary’ and ‘only exist because the National Health Service (SNS) is breaking down’.

The union leader regrets the creation of more work incentives, which will generate ‘more inequalities’ and the ‘destructuring of teams’, constituting an invitation ‘to more overtime work and also more precarious work’.

Nuno Rodrigues, secretary-general of the Independent Doctors' Union (SIM), said, on the other hand, saw positively measures such as the “revision of conventions in the area of gynaecology and obstetrics” and the creation of medical and psychological assessment centres: ‘SIM is in favour of all voluntary measures in which doctors can apply for additional patient portfolios, consultations and additional surgeries, because it advocates greater autonomy and flexibility for doctors in managing their time’.

On behalf of the Portuguese Nurses' Union, Guadalupe Simões told Lusa: "There is little novelty. The recourse to the private sector in relation to waiting lists already exists, and the recourse (to the private sector) for other areas was also already being done’.

Both the union and the Order of Nurses regretted the absence of nurses from the measures presented by the Minister of Health: "Any measure, plan or reform that does not take into account the largest professional class in health is doomed to failure".

Faced with the number of beds occupied inappropriately in hospitals, the National Association for Continuing Care lamented that there is not a ‘single measure’ in the plan for this type of care.

‘Not only, once again and in continuation of the previous government's policy, does long-term care appear to be of no interest in solving the problems of the health sector (when it is so fundamental), but the government also fails to explain how it will resolve these inappropriate hospitalisations,’ says the association, which also criticises the lack of measures to increase the salaries of health professionals in the social and private sectors.

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